What does theater dance mean today? On Broadway, we’ve recently seen everything from hip-hop in Hamilton to pointe work in Anastasia. As a result, theater dance class can truly run the gamut when it comes to genre and even music. “A jazz, tap, or modern class will focus on specific codified technical training,” explains Jim Cooney, who teaches theater dance and serves as the educational department’s resident faculty advisor here at Broadway Dance Center. “In theater class, we work on storytelling, style, and musicality. You focus on communicating the story–what you’re thinking and feeling—through dance. It’s like an acting class, but instead of text we’re using movement.”
Did you catch the premiere of FX’s new limited series, Fosse/Verdon, on Tuesday night? The eight-part series chronicles the creative and complicated relationship of renowned Broadway power couple, Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon. Fosse was a Hollywood hoofer turned award-winning director and choreographer, known for such shows as Chicago, Sweet Charity and Pippin, and films including All that Jazz, Star 80 and Lenny.
His wife, muse and artistic partner, Verdon, began as a dancer and assistant to Jack Cole. She went on to star in a host of Broadway shows (many of them directed and choreographed by Fosse) and kept her late husband’s legacy alive through the 1999 Broadway revue, Fosse.
The lights are bright, the buzz and energy is so full of life. It’s full of song, dance, storytelling, exciting choreography, extravagant costumes and sets. It’s Broadway. It’s lovingly called The Great White Way – one of the first streets in the U.S. to be lit with electric lights. Its history and reputation and potential for amazing things make it a “bucket list” item for many dancers. But when so many dancers are vying for the same goal, how can you turn this dream into a reality? How can you break into Broadway?
Here, we turn to Stephanie Bissonnette, a 2010 graduate of Broadway Dance Center’s Summer Intern Program (now called the BDC Professional Semester), who made her Broadway debut in the musical Mean Girls last April. She knows all there is to know about what kinds of classes aspiring Broadway dancers should be taking, how to prepare for that singing audition and how you, too, can make it on The Great White Way, doing what you love.
Do you ever get tired of your usual weekly routine? Looking for something new to try, or are you wanting to try to become more versatile in your training?
Well, here are 5 offerings at BDC – different styles, exciting master classes and studio events – that will keep your week more interesting!
We all remember the names of tap greats – Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, the Copasetics, Gregory Hines and Savion Glover. Looking more deeply and broadly, we see that far more dancemakers were influential and accomplished in their own ways. Sometimes it’s up to people who learned from them and worked with them to honor their legacy.
That’s what Justin Boccitto and Germaine Salsberg, BDC tap teachers, recently did in memory of tap icon Bettye Morrow, who passed away in 2016. Boccitto studied with Morrow extensively. Salsberg took Morrow’s class when she was still teaching at BDC, and “saw it as a fun challenge”. On Friday, June 29, they held an Advanced Beginner tap masterclass with Morrow’s material and in her teaching style.
It’s not too late to sign up for BDC’s Musical Theater Weekend Intensive (June 23-24). This jam-packed two-day intensive is geared toward aspiring Broadway triple-threats and pre-professional performers. The workshop includes dance classes with industry-leading choreographers such as Josh Bergasse (On the Town, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Smash), Rachelle Rak (Dance Moms, Fosse), Randy Skinner (White Christmas, 42ndStreet), Sarah O’Gleby (Frozen) and Ricky Hinds (Newsies, Come From Away).
Participants will also partake in a professional seminar with a music director, mock audition with a casting director, and Q&A session with lead agent Lucille diCampli. Dancers will leave the intensive with an understanding of how to craft a professional resume, what it’s like to attend a Broadway open call, how to land an agent, and the styles and choreography of current Broadway shows.
Broadway Dance Center is proud to continue hosting its acclaimed Broadway Choreography Series. This ongoing master class series offers the opportunity to learn the original choreography to some of Broadway’s finest shows, presented by actual cast members and/or creative team straight from the stage to the studio.
Past classes have featured choreography from award-winning musicals like Holiday Inn, Bandstand, Anastasia, On Your Feet, Miss Saigon, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and more!
Yes, that’s Bernadette Peters’ voice you hear singing “Star Tar” from the original Off-Broadway cast album of Dames at Sea. The new Broadway production’s director/choreographer Randy Skinner held a master tap class at the Broadway Dance Center, proving that classic American dance style is alive and very well.
via DAMES AT SEA’s Randy Skinner Holds Master Tap Class at Broadway Dance Center on BroadwayWorld.com
Former BDC Front Desk Manager, Drew King, made the “leap” (well, really just a 0.3 mile walk) from Broadway Dance Center to Broadway—starring in On the 20th Century at 42nd Street’s American Airlines Theater. While Drew didn’t grow up with extensive dance training, he still had the courage to pursue his dreams in New York City. So how did a self-proclaimed “non-dancer” find himself performing in a tap-dancing musical choreographed by Tony-winner, Warren Carlyle? Take a look at our interview with Drew and see how his time and training at BDC helped him on his journey to the “Great White Way.”
What was your dance/musical theater training like growing up?
I started out as a musician. I played saxophone for a few years, and then in middle school I joined choir. All throughout high school, I trained as a vocalist in a wonderful music program and studied with a voice teacher who was also on faculty at Boston Conservatory. I had a wonderful theater program at my high school. I grew up watching the musicals there and knew I wanted to participate when I got to high school. My freshman year, I auditioned for Grease and was cast as Doody. I was hooked on performing from that day forward.
As a dancer, I never had formal dance training back home in Massachusetts. A friend’s mother owned a dance studio, and she was kind enough to let me take jazz and tap class my senior year of high school…but other than that, I was a very late bloomer. I had always wanted to be a dancer, but I never had the opportunity or financial resources. I knew that when I moved to New York, I would have a lot of catching up to do.
How did you come to dance and eventually work at BDC
I ended up in New York by accident, I suppose. I knew I wanted to be here, but I showed up much earlier than I anticipated. I wanted to be a musical theater major in college, but every program that I auditioned for rejected me. By the end of my senior year, I found myself with only two acceptance letters (not to musical theatre programs) to Fordham University and Marymount Manhattan. With no other options, I moved to New York in the fall of 2005 to attend Fordham University at 18 years old.
My freshman year at Fordham, a classmate who was a dancer dragged me to Broadway Dance Center on 57th Street for a basic ballet class. I was terrified and intimidated, but by the time the class had finished, I was so excited! All of sudden, I realized that all the resources I needed to supplement my training were at my fingertips. New York has some of the greatest training opportunities and classes. After I finished that class, I immediately picked up a work-study application from the front desk. I turned it in the very next day, and by Saturday, I was training for my first work-study shift. I continued training at BDC and working in the work-study program all throughout college, sticking with the program through the move from 57th Street to 45th Street. I remember working with Dawn Rumbaugh at the Actor’s Temple while the new studio was being built. By the time I got to my junior year in college, I managed to get a permanent job at the Front Desk working phones and as an assistant manager. I juggled my last two years of school with my front desk shifts as well as dance training at BDC. I continued working at BDC as a front desk manager on and off until the spring of 2013. I’ve spent roughly about 7 years working and 10 years training at Broadway Dance Center. That studio has been a second home and second family for the majority of my time in New York City.
Were/are there any classes or teachers at BDC to which you can attribute some of your success?
BDC has such an outstanding faculty. Working the front desk, you get to know all the teachers and staff of the studio. I would have to say that almost all of my success comes from the faculty at Broadway Dance Center (as well as those staff members who guided me and gave me the opportunity to train there). So many of my teachers went out of their way to get to know me, make corrections, encourage me and push me. It’s terribly intimidating starting dance training as a 19-year-old adult when you’re walking into a class with dancers who have been training since they were toddlers. It’s terrifying and can be humiliating, but BDC and the faculty there looked beyond that (even when I couldn’t see beyond it myself) and saw potential in me. Every teacher there inspired me to never settle, to always challenge myself, and to accept my own personal journey and path. Aside from dance training, so many of the teachers at BDC have unknowingly been some of my favorite life coaches. I’ve had so many wonderful teachers here, but some specific teachers who have really encouraged me and pushed me to get to where I am today include people like Beth Goheen, Natalya Stavro, Jamie Salmon, Dorit Koppel, Ray Hesselink, Matthew Powell, Germaine Salsberg, Michelle Barber, Sheila Barker, Tracie Stanfield, Brice Mousset, Josh Bergasse, Al Blackstone, Ricky Hinds, David Marquez, Ginger Cox, Slam; it might sound like a long list, but every one of these teachers have left a lasting impression on my personal life as well as my training.
What does it feel like to make your Broadway debut?
Of course it is incredibly exciting…but honestly, a bit surreal. I’ve been dreaming of this opportunity for so long, and now that it is happening, I’m struggling to believe that it is real. Sometimes I truly have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. I also am aware that I am having quite an exceptional experience for a Broadway debut. To be involved in an original Broadway cast of a show is a rare opportunity, and even more rare when the show is a hit and so well received by the New York community. So many exciting opportunities have come from this show, and every time something pops up, I can’t believe it’s happening. I feel that the whole experience has been a fairytale version of a dream come true, all neatly wrapped up with a bow. Many lifelong “bucket list” opportunities have come to fruition, such as having a first Broadway opening night, getting “the call” that you booked the job, singing (and tapping!) on a cast recording, dancing on television, performing on the Tony Awards, etc. Even more exciting, the four tap dancing porters (myself included) were nominated for an Astaire Award alongside such outstanding talents like Tony Yazbeck and Robert Fairchild.
What was your audition process like? (How did you prepare, callbacks, etc.)
The audition process was incredibly fun but also intimidating. Warren Carlyle is so kind and gracious in the audition room, which makes auditioning for him so great, but he also sets the bar very high and demands excellence from everyone. That is one of the many reasons why his choreography sparkles in all the shows he works on.
I had attended an open ECC (Equity Chorus Call) for the show last summer, and received a callback a few weeks later. At the callback, Warren quickly taught a pretty lengthy and tricky tap combination, after which every guy in the room had to do one-at-a-time. In most audition rooms, you will dance with two or three other guys per group, but Warren had us each tap by ourselves—pretty intimidating and exposing with all eyes on you; certainly no room for error. However, it wasn’t as terrifying as it could have been because one my biggest tap mentors, Ray Hesselink, always has his students run exercises one-at-a-time in his class. This is a skill that has come in handy for many auditions these days, including the audition that got me my first Broadway show.
After dancing and singing for the callback, I got a call for a final callback a few weeks after that. For the final callback, there were about 24 guys. We all had to do the tap combination again, as well as learn the vocal harmony to a four-part harmony song from the show. I had to learn the bass line, and the music director played the other three vocal parts on the piano as I sang the bass line against it. That afternoon, only a few hours after the callback, Warren personally called me himself to tell me I had booked the show.
Working on a new musical (of a revival), what was the rehearsal and workshop process like? Did a lot of changes occur during previews?
The rehearsal process was extremely exciting. This show is very rarely done, and this was the first revival since the original production with Madeline Kahn in 1978. Roundabout Theater Company is the master of putting on a revival, so they knew exactly what they were doing. They assembled some of the most incredible designers and creatives in the business. It was so exciting to see the show start as an idea on paper and vision boards, and then come into existence on stage at the American Airlines Theater. The sets, costumes, music, direction, choreography all blossomed and came to life over the short rehearsal period and it was truly magical having the opportunity to watch that happen.
During previews, there were slight changes in some of the music and writing, and even some of the choreography, but for the most part, what was rehearsed in the studio is still represented in the show right now.
Describe what it’s like to work with Tony-winning choreographer, Warren Carlyle.
Working with Warren is a dream. Aside from his undeniable talent, style, professionalism and grace, he is such a wonderful human being. He is incredibly attentive and sensitive to every person he works with, and has an overwhelming sense of gratitude and respect for dancers and performers. He teaches his choreography very quickly, and asks that you are paying attention and giving 110% energy along the way. Many rehearsal processes are short, so he does this for a matter of time, but ultimately, he wants you to be the best that you can be, and the cast has a great admiration for him because of this. It is no surprise to me that he won the Tony Award last year, and I have no doubts there are many more in his future. It is truly an honor and a joy to perform his choreography eight shows a week. The audiences certainly love it, but most importantly, every cast member in our show loves it.
What are some of your favorite past credits?
I would have to say that one of my favorite past credits would be My One and Only at the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut. This was one of my first professional gigs working at an Equity house. The theater was built way back in 1877 and produces some of the best regional theater productions you can find in the country. The theater is beautiful—as is the location—and everyone who works at the theater is a lovely human being who absolutely loves and treasures the tradition of American musical theater. They do beautiful work, and it was an honor to perform there.
Another favorite past credit would also have to be working at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine. I’ve done three contracts up there (9 to 5, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Joseph). Each experience has been delightful. The production quality of the shows is wonderful, the staff is amazing to work with, and above all, you get to spend the summer living on the beautiful coast of Maine.
What do you do when you’re not performing?
When I’m not performing, I’m trying to res…But because I’m a busybody, I’m still training, auditioning, going to the gym, and working a part-time job that I’ve had for about three years now. The downside of this business is that there are no guarantees and rarely any security. My show will close in July, and soon enough, I’ll be back to pounding the pavement. I’m working hard now to keep my body and training in shape so that I’m ready to hit auditions again. |BDC|
Interview by Mary Callahan for Broadway Dance Center