Theater Review: Evita

images1I was so excited to see the Broadway revival of “Evita,” not only because of the amazing cast (Elena Rogers as Eva Perone and Ricky Martin as Che) or the renowned score (Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice), but because with Rob Ashford as choreographer, I knew I was in to see some amazing dancing.

Ashford’s choreography has received countless nominations and awards (both as director and/or choreographer) for shows such as “How To Succeed…,” “Cry Baby,” “Promises, Promises,” The Wedding Singer,” “Curtains,” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”  His style is very grounded and EXTREMELY athletic.  I was curious, therefore, to see how Ashford’s choreography would “fit” on a more traditional and thematic musical.

Be sure to check out Chris Bailey‘s “Evita” rep. class at Broadway Dance Center on Thursday, December 6th from 11-12:30pm as part of BDC’s Broadway Choreographer Series.

Theater Review: Nice Work If You Can Get It

images1Saturday was what I like to call a “matinee kind of a day.”   After work I walked through the crowds of people and the scorching heat to the s’wonderful, s’marvelous, air-conditioned Imperial Theatre, just a block east of Broadway Dance Center.  At 1:30pm I was still able to purchase a student ticket for the 2pm show (clutch?) and took my seat in the mezzanine of the beautiful theater.  Sometimes theaters will place student ticket-holders in the “worst” seats in the house (ie. far corners in the front or back, partial viewed seating,etc.), but that was not at all my experience! Check out tickets here.
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This was my second time seeing “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” having seen it back in April during previews for my mom’s birthday.  I decided to see the show again after taking Samantha Sturm’s “Nice Work” master class at BDC.  [*Jeffrey “Shecky” Schecter, who has taught several BDC master classes in the past as part of BDC’s Broadway Choreography Series, is also part of the show!].  Back when I saw the show in April, I was so infatuated with the experience itself – seeing a Kathleen Marshall musical starring big-names like Matthew Broderick, Kelli O’Hara, Judy Kaye, and Michael McGrath.  So this time, I focused on (surprise!) the dancing.

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Like I mentioned, Kathleen Marshall directed and choreographed “Nice Work.” Marshall has won three Tony’s and two Drama Desk Awards for “Best Choreography,” so it is no wonder that “Nice Work” has more than just your average “Charleston!”  Ben Brantley (NY Times) noted, “And as fluent as always in the period she means to evoke, Ms. Marshall has drilled her agile dancers to perform every possible variation on the Charleston.”

“To choreograph on Broadway it’s really important to know style.  This is a show that takes place in the ’20s, the last show I did [“Anything Goes”] took place in the ’30s, so I think it’s important to understand different eras and different styles.  Look at old movies, watch old TV shows, watch old MGM musicals, old “Fred and Ginger” musicals…understand how those classic musicals “work” and then you can turn around and make it your own.”

~ Kathleen Marshall

Theater Review: Cougar, the musical

Let me begin by admitting that yes, I was the youngest member of the audience at a preview performance of “Cougar, the musical.”  That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed myself despite the fact that I am still a “baby cub.”  The cast was tremendously talented (I recognized Brenda Braxton, who played “Velma Kelly” when I saw “Chicago,” my very first Broadway musical back in 2006!).  The songs were memorable, especially the song in the nail salon when each of the three women are getting different manicure colors to help them “get up the nerve” to overcome their fears.

“Cougar The Musical is an original, four person show about three divine but disillusioned women who unleash their “inner cougar” by dating younger men (played by one very sexy actor) and in the process, find self-love and empowerment. The multi-talented cast sing and dance their way through songs ranging from grinding blues to doo wop, to pop to “Julio”, a romantic ballad sung to a vibrator. Hilarious, soulful and heartwarming, Cougar the Musical is a madcap ride from Cougar Bar to nail salon to boudoir and back as the women learn to say “yes” to getting older, “yes” to trust and friendship and “yes” to embracing their lives.”

Long story short, whether you’re a cougar or still a cub, “Cougar, the musical” will have you laughing, crying, singing and dancing along!

Performances are at
St. Luke’s Theatre
308 West 46th Street (between 8th & 9th Avenues)

Performance times are
Wednesday and Friday at 8pm
Saturday and Sunday at 2pm

Steppin’ Out with Ben Vereen

I meandered around the Capezio flagship store for about thirty minutes, simultaneously imagining my dream dance-wear closet and anxiously eyeing the clock above the elevator.  It was almost noon, and in just a few minutes Ben Vereen would be walking into the store for his “Meet and Greet” event.  I sat down on a bench and began fiddling with my phone to pass the time.  After a few minutes I looked up and saw Mr. Vereen enter the store.  I think he spotted me smiling from ear to ear because he walked straight to me and began to introduce himself.  “Oh my goodness,” I began, “You don’t have to introduce yourself. I’m here to see you!”

He shook my hand as I stood up beside him.  He was shorter than me, shorter than I’d imagined (though I’m rather tall).  I remember watching the PBS performance of “Fosse” on a VHS my dad helped me record  (and I decorated with golden star stickers and bubble letters).  I wasn’t obsessed with the Backstreet Boys or N’Sync when I was 10.  No, I was obsessed with all things Fosse.  I would watch the VHS (that’s “video home system” for all you youngin’s) over and over, trying to memorize and replicate the silky smooth choreography of Ben Vereen, Rachelle Rak, and Dana Moore.  My dad gave memy grandfather’s old English bowler hat so that I could practice flipping and twirling the cap with ease.  My dad even helped me build a dance cane (we took a wooden pole from Home Depot, painted it black, and nailed two chair-leg protectors to either end).  Long story short, meeting Ben Vereen was a dream come true!

Broadway legend and Tony Award winner Ben Vereen brings his hit show, Steppin’ Out with Ben Vereen, to 54 Below, July 10 – 21! A high energy tribute to the music of Broadway, along with musical selections made famous by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr., audiences can expect to hear classics such as “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries”, “Mr. Bojangles” and even “Defying Gravity”. Well known to theatre audiences for his Tony and Drama Desk winning performance in Pippin, Vereen has also appeared on Broadway in Wicked, Chicago, Fosse and Jelly’s Last Jam. Television audiences will remember him from his celebrated portrayal of Chicken George in Roots, along with recent appearances on How I Met Your Mother, Grey’s Anatomy (Prism Award) and Law & Order: Criminal Intent. In January, 2012, Mr. Vereen was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame. 54 Below (254 W. 54th St. cellar)

Theater Review: I ♥ Bob

After accidentally but  understandably arriving at the Joyce Theater in Chelsea, Lily Lewis (SIP ’12) and I raced downtown to the Joyce SoHo to catch Ray Hesselink’s new tap show, “I ♥ Bob.”  The outside of the correct theater was unimposing – sort of like a chic garage.  We entered the theater huffing and puffing, having sprinted over from the subway stop.  We had no ticket, and merely had to give our name to the check-in table in exchange for a program (we had purchased our tickets online a few days in advance).  The theater itself was not the elaborate Broadway theater I was expecting, but rather a tiny black box with maybe fifty chairs on ascending risers from the ground-level stage.

“This live-action cartoon, directed by Mark Lonergan and choreographed by Ray Hesselink to music by Wayne Barker, pulls together the Parallel Exit signatures (tap and other dancing; grunts, coos, shrieks and other nonverbal sounds; puppetry; tirelessly inventive physical humor) to create a kind of exuberant ensemble vaudeville. The movement doesn’t let up, but the tempo is playful and breezy, and the performers make it look easy.” – Andy Webster (NY Times)

“I ♥ Bob” is essentially a dance narrative (dancing that tells a story) that includes voice overs, pantomime, puppetry, tap, and physical comedy.  The story obviously surrounds Bob and his extraordinary adventures as an ordinary guy.  Bob works as a “FedUp” delivery man but goes about his everydays trying (rather unsuccessfully) to save the world – walking an elderly woman across the street, saving a cat from a tree…you get the picture.  Besides loving Bob from the start, the audience also immediately falls in love with Vera, a buck-toothed plain Jane who dreams of finding her Prince Charming and living “happily ever after.”  Chaos (beyond the normal chaos of Manhattan) ensues with a rivalry between multigazillionaire Libby T. Grump (think Cruella de Vil + Donald Trump) and self-help schmuck Dwight Williams to chisel their face on the Statue of Liberty.  But don’t worry!  By the end of the show our lovebirds meet, Lady Liberty’s face remains intact, and the cast breaks out into a tap dancing finale – what could be better?

Happy We’ll Be – Al Blackstone

After a much needed catch-up session at Blockheads Burritos, Jason Aquirre (PS S’12), Molly Day (PS S’12) and I headed over to the Roseland Ballroom for the much-aniticipated “Happy We’ll Be,” a dance narrative choreographed by Al Blackstone.  Al is a beloved guest teacher at Broadway Dance Center – just see what some students have to stay:

I have always subscribed to the notion that Al is the ultimate storyteller. Even in class, he brings a magical element to his teaching. The beauty of his movement and narrative is only matched by the warmth and compassion of his heart. – Alexa Erbach (PS F’11)

His class without a doubt always lifts my spirits. The energy he exudes is extraordinary and so motivational. – Nikki Croker (PS F’11)

Al was the 2011 recipient of the Capezio A.C.E Award (Dance Teacher Summit), which “is a great opportunity for emerging choreographers to expose their work to one of the most influential audiences in dance.”  Check out Al’s winning piece, “Brown Eyed Girl.”

As part of their prize, A.C.E Award winners receive a grant to fund their own dance production in New York City.  And thus, “Happy We’ll Be” was born…and for that, we are so happy!

The show is a full-length “dance narrative,” no dialogue – just music and dance.  The show takes a bit after the concept of “6 degrees of separation” (“Six degrees of separation is the theory that anyone on the planet can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries.”) In a sort of ripple effect, one character meets and affects another character, who affects another, and so on.  But, only the audience gets to see the full picture.

Each new dance scene witnesses a character’s own pursuit of happiness. ie:

  • A teenaged girl learning to walk in heels to impress her school crush.
  • A man planning to propose to his girlfriend.
  • A young gay man looking for support from his family.

We are all connected in our pursuit of happiness and we all play a role in making others happy.

Al’s latest project is a full-length dance production that defies the convention of any other show you have ever seen. “Happy We’ll Be” is an inexplicable account of love, loss, kindness, wonder and hope. It penetrates the center of our hearts and delves into the source of individual happiness, taking the audience on an unforgettable journey that forces us to marvel at the exquisite beauty in the smallest moments of our own lives. “Happy We’ll Be” is a revivifying reminder that love can be found beyond a lover’s embrace. It reminds us that love is rooted in the slightest touch of a hand, the help of a friend, the kindness of a stranger, and the affection of a parent. – Alexa Erbach

[excerpt from Al Blackstone’s resume]

…My heart’s been stolen.

Book Review: A Chorus Line and the Musicals of Michael Bennett

I would like you to say that I am a direct

descendant of Terpsichore, and I don’t have a

mother and father, and I wasn’t born in Buffalo,

and all the boring things that are really true

about where I come from.  I wish I was born in a

trunk in a basement of a Broadway theatre, and I

crawled into the pit and looked up and there was

Jule Styne conducting the overture to Gypsy, and

I heard Ethel Merman sing, and the first moment

of like was experiencing a Jerry Robbins musical.

I can’t think of anything more perfect.

-Michael Bennett, 1983

I love learning about dance (the history, culture, and people)  just as much as I love dancing itself.  When I read about dance, I feel like I become a more educated and engaged performer.  Understanding why Fosse choreography requires turned-in feet (because Bob Fosse was pigeon-toed himself) or how come female ballet dancers wear pointe shoes but men traditionally do not (because ballerinas were idealized as ethereal) helps me appreciate every nuance of a style of dance.

Ok, so now I’ll get to the point of this blog post: please read “A Chorus Line and the Musicals of Michael Bennett” by Ken Mandelbaum.  No matter what style of dancer you are, you’ve most likely heard of A Chorus Line , the legendary Broadway musical about life as a dancer – countless auditions, overwhelming rejection, and unmitigated determination and passion.  You can (and should!) go see the live performance or watch the movie version (which does a pretty good job of maintaining the integrity of the stage show), but knowing the story behind A Chorus Line reveals the real magic of the show and why it is the quintessential dancer musical.

I’m not going to give away all of the magical mysteries of A Chorus Line, but here’s a little overview.  Michael Bennett danced on TV’s “Hullabaloo” and as Baby John in the OBC of West Side Story before pursuing his passion for choreography (Follies, Company, Dreamgirls, etc.).  A Chorus Line was his attempt to 1) hire his out-of-work colleagues, 2) reveal the recent changes in musical theater (ie. more versatile performers but fewer and fewer jobs), and 3) “examine the fierce discipline, hard work, and devotion that is required to wind up ‘only’ in the chorus, backing a star but never becoming one.”

The process started when Bennett called a group of his dancer friends to meet up one night.  They started with a dance class to “loosen up” and then sat around in a circle eating, drinking, and talking for nearly twelve hours straight.  The dancers shared their stories – their hopes and dreams, as well as their fears and insecurities.  And long story short, those stories became A Chorus Line.

Alright, fine! I’ll give you some juicy secrets.  But you still have to read the book!

  • Even though the characters in A Chorus Line were based on the stories of Bennett’s friends, some of them didn’t get cast (as themselves!).
  • Bennett was adamant about keeping the show honest and not glamorizing the audition process.  Originally, the character of Cassie (the over-qualified former star who at one time had a little romance with Zach, the show’s director) did not get hired at the end of the show.  However, this depressing ending, however realistic, was quickly changed to win over the hearts of audiences.
  • At one rehearsal, Bennett told a dancer to “fake” falling and getting injured.  When the cast crowded him and cried out  in panic, Bennett called out, “Now, do you all remember what you just did?  Let’s work that into blocking.”
  • The characters of Connie and Richie (Asian and African-American, respectively) originally had a duet about being typed as “ethnic” dancers.  They joked that they didn’t need to be the best dancers because the directors needed them in the show.
  • The set of A Chorus Line is bare – a white line across the black stage and rotating triangular pillars upstage.  The pillars’ three sides represented “the dancer’s world:” 1) a black panel (the black box theater), 2) a mirrored panel (the rehearsal studio), and 3) a sequined panel (the glamor of the stage/lights).

Are you enthralled yet? Now go read the book yourself!