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The Ensemblist is an inside look at the experience of being a Broadway performer- from the first rehearsal through performing eight shows a week and beyond. Whether you’re an experienced theatre professional or a passionate fan, The Ensemblist will give you the opportunity to get to know new performers and the great work they do onstage, while also shedding light on some of the hidden innerworkings of the Broadway experience. Created and hosted by Mo Brady (The Addams Family, SMASH) and Nikka Graff Lanzarone (Chicago, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), The Ensemblist is the only podcast that shows you Broadway from the inside out. 

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Blog

"The Energy Was Unreal!"

Mo Brady

 Brittany Conigatti in  Broadway Bares

Brittany Conigatti in Broadway Bares

Waking up this morning with my body still covered in glitter and having no voice, I can happily say that I think that makes for a very successful first Broadway Bares! Last night was unlike anything I have experienced thus far being in the Broadway community. Before last night, I was a Broadway Bares virgin- waking up today, that "Cherry has been popped," like Jerry Mitchell and Nick Kenkel like to say and I have become a true member of the legacy that is Broadway Bares.  

It all started with throwing the idea around the last two years with some close friends. I always had a secret wanting to be apart of Bares, but truly was nervous and always made an excuse or simply wasn't available. Also with the crazy schedule that comes with being Dance Captain, the excuse to not take part always lined up... until this year. I heard that the theme of the show would be "Game Night" (which I LIVE for) and looked at my close friend Shannon, also game night obsessed, in our dressing room (first time Broadway Bares too) and said what if we just go to the meeting and see what it's all about?! As time grew closer, the questions and doubts kept creeping in and finally the night before the meeting she sent me a text saying, "Make sure you have your headshots and resumes tomorrow because I'm forcing you to go to this meeting with me and be apart of Bares!" Fast forward and there it was, two girls who made their Broadway Debut in "A Bronx Tale," to making their "Broadway Bares" debut together! 

When it came to making my Broadway Debut, I vowed to myself to partake in everything that goes with being on Broadway! Getting cast in Broadway Bares was pretty exciting, especially when I saw I was in Al Blackstone's piece "Candyland!" I have been dying to get the opportunity to work with him and even though I never thought the first time would be Bares, I was stoked and secondly I LOVED playing Candyland as a kid! The entire rehearsal process was an absolute joy! Ali and Billy, Al’s assistants on the piece, were a dream too! The energy was always light, fun, uplifting, and always had me leaving with the biggest smile! They were beyond organized which made going in on my days off a breeze! I looked forward to being in a room with all new friends and being able to create the world of Candyland with them, which also included eight others who were making their Broadway Bares Debut too! 

The days leading up to the show were a bit of a whirlwind! Friday- Sunday it truly is non-stop to put together all of the pieces of this unbelievable show! This being my first time both watching and partaking, I watched every piece with my mouth open in amazement at how lucky I am to be apart of this community of incredible, talented artists who all from the Stage Managers, to wardrobe, to the crew, to the choreographers, to the makeup and hair teams, down to the cast, all volunteer their time and produce this miraculous and vivacious show! It truly felt like a family and that is something I will cherish. Show day is fast and furious! It is so organized that from the time you enter the building you are whisked away to rehearsal, hair, makeup, and costumes, yet somehow feel completely ready and prepared by the time the shows start! The energy that is within the walls of the Hammerstein Ballroom is unreal! You feel love, acceptance, support, trust, pride, guidance, hope, a sense of connection and a true sense of what it is to be apart of a community. That is what I loved so much about this entire experience. 

Show time was surreal! As I was being transformed into "Lollipop Attendant," I couldn't help but look around the room and just smile in amazement. Piecing the vision together and seeing the finished product left me with my jaw on the floor! Everyone looked incredible and I truly couldn't believe my eyes when I looked at myself for the first time in the mirror! Lots of pictures, tons of glitter, half naked to fully naked performers, and immense amounts of love and support (and of course talent from all departments) pulled this show off! What was even crazier was dancing onstage as a full company during the finale and then sitting onstage amongst all of these performers, surrounded by a crowd who was along on this intoxicating ride with us from start to finish, left me at a loss for words! 

We all have one goal and that is to raise as much money as we can to give back to those who are in desperate need of help, and I am so beyond happy to say that we raised over $1.8 million! I, along with so many others were in SHOCK! Team Candyland came in a whopping second place for the team competition raising $50,386 and I personally raised close to $2,000, which was a goal I didn't think I'd be able to reach but did with the help of all those who took the time to donate.  

I sit here today extremely grateful and proud to be on Broadway and to have been able to represent my show (A Bronx Tale) in this year’s 28th Broadway Bares: Game Night! When they say you don't want to miss out on Bares- TRUST- YOU DON'T! 

 Brittany Conigatti and members of the cast of  Broadway Bares

Brittany Conigatti and members of the cast of Broadway Bares

"The Growing Never Stops."

Mo Brady

 Chris Medlin

Chris Medlin

I have wanted to participate in Broadway Bares for the last couple of years, but was never able to. But this year is different and I finally got to dive into my first Bares! This year’s theme was “Game Night” and everyone came out to play! Students from Strip University were enveloped in an adventure of games coming to life. Everything from Battle Ship, to Ouiji, to Parcheesi. I was in a wild night of Flashlight Tag, choreographed by the fantastic mind of John Alix. One of the things I thought was going to be tough was trying to balance the schedule of a Broadway show with its own rehearsals and events with Broadway Bares rehearsals. But if you want to be there and you work hard for it, they are more than welcoming and would love to have you. 

Broadway Cares and the Stripathon fundraising is a way of being involved with and helping the community while conquering a lot of mental hurdles of our own. It’s a rare chance in this industry to acknowledge and celebrate our uniqueness while making a real difference in the world. And by motivating ourselves to bare it all and help others, we’re able to give back to a community that has given us so much. It’s a chance to join our artist family in the greatest city in the world and let our freak flags wave. Broadway Bares gives us all a chance for race, gender, sexuality, and our pasts to be both acknowledged and celebrated! It’s incredible that we are all at such different points of our journeys and that all of our paths crossed here, in this moment. This -Mean- Girl was able to do something -nice- and gain a whole new family! 

The day of the show is a long and exciting day. Tech rehearsals, matinee shows, hair and makeup, dress runs... it’s all a blur and suddenly it’s time for doors to open and for the game to be played. The room grows more and more electric! Old friends and new friends fill the house of the Hammerstein Ballroom to help support such a wonderful cause. Everyone backstage is supportive and loving and ready to change things for the better. Everyone out in the house is ready with a wall of energy bursting at the seams to catapult us into the night. The city is drowned in support and love on one of the greatest nights of the year. 

Did I have an absolutely wonderful, cathartic first Bares? Yes, I felt like magic the entire night! Was a record breaking amount of money was raised? Yes, over 1.8 MILLION dollars as of the midnight show, in fact! All that was left to do was to celebrate who we are and all that we can be. The growing never stops and, together, we can make the world so much brighter! 

 Chris Medlin with choreographers John Alix and Khadija Griffith at  Broadway Bares .

Chris Medlin with choreographers John Alix and Khadija Griffith at Broadway Bares.

"An Injury Can Be An Opportunity."

Mo Brady

by Kirstin Tucker

 Kirstin Tucker

Kirstin Tucker

On June 5, 2017, I was in an audition dancing for my life.  I was having so much fun and giving it all I had.  It was one of those rare auditions where you feel like you’re really nailing it.  Then it happened. I saw the whole thing in the mirror as if it was in slow motion. I went to take my next step, and my knee decided to go the other direction, and with the next step, I was down and the tears began to flow because I knew something was really wrong.  Strangely, I was in no pain. Two of the guys that were auditioning with me carried me out of the room.  A friend ran across the street from Pearl Studios and got me REAL ice, not those little ice packs they keep there that do nothing.  Other friends helped get my leg propped up, tied the ice to my knee with their clothing, and encouraged me.  (To everyone in that audition room, my friends and those I didn’t know, thank you.  You were all so wonderful and supportive!)  I guess I was in denial about the severity of what had just happened, because I asked if I could still come back in and sing!  The second I stood up, however, my knee shot backwards, I was unable to put any weight on it at all without it giving way, and the truth sunk in.  Luckily I was able, with help from a loyal friend, to get in to see my doctor that day.  With one small pull of my leg, he immediately scheduled an MRI.  I had completely torn my ACL.  

After getting the news and calling my family, and regaining at least some composure, I had to call my stage managers for A Bronx Tale.  They were so wonderful and empathetic. They said of course I could take a medical leave and we would get it all worked out.  An ACL recovery is a minimum of six months, so, keeping a positive attitude about the life of the show and my ability to rehab in that time, we set my date to come back to the show for January 4, 2018. I turned my attention to what I needed to do to get better.  Living alone in a 3rd floor walk up wasn’t gonna cut it post surgery.  I was going to need to sublet my apartment, get help from family, and to find a surgeon that understood dancers. It was a busy week, but everything fell into place, and I was off to Texas to have surgery, rehab, and to recover with my family.  

Now I’m not going to lie and say that it was an easy road.  I had surgery on June 23, 2017.  Three days later I started physical therapy.  It was the most humbling experience I’ve ever had.  As dancers, we are so used to being able to do anything with our bodies.  Kick our faces, bend over backwards.  You name it.  And here I was laying on the physical therapist’s table, unable to pick up my leg to do a single leg raise.  It’s in moments like that you have to make a decision.  Who is gonna be in control?  Your unfaithful body, or the mind that got you to Broadway in the first place?  I decided to attack physical therapy.  My new job was to do my exercises and listen to my doctors to do all I could to heal. My return date of January 4, 2018 became my focus.  I was determined.  After the first very hard week, things started to pick up.  You get better quickly right away, and being able to just balance on one leg is a huge accomplishment.  Then the plateaus hit.  I had many, many moments that I would just stop and cry because I felt like I was never going to be able to get through it.  But I would keep trying, and the next day, everything was (usually) easier again.  

Injuries for me are more mentally challenging than physically challenging.  Around the end of November, I really started getting in my head.  I had to let work know by December 5th if I was coming back on time, and to be honest, I was freaking out.  My PT kept telling me that I would be just fine, but I didn’t believe him.  Things were still hard, and I was unable to do a plie’ on my bad leg.  How on earth would I be able to dance so soon?  Well, let me tell you, trust your physical therapists!  They will get you through it.  We worked together and pushed on and pushed harder to get me to where I needed to be.  And guess what!  We did it!  I started working on show choreography at physical therapy my last month, and even got my PT to dance with me!  I graduated from PT at the end of December after passing the crazy strenuous test that you have to get 95% on for the surgeon to release you.  I got 99%. I am eternally grateful and have a whole new respect for Physical Therapists.

On January 4, 2018, I had my first show back from my medical leave.  Right on schedule, seven months to the day from my last show.  I was incredibly nervous before and during that first show.  I couldn’t help but cry my way through the finale. I WAS BACK!  It was so wonderful to be back on stage with my family from A Bronx Tale.  They were the most supportive and loving group of people to me throughout my recovery, and it was amazing to be back with them.  I felt right back at home with this incredible cast.  

I am a person of faith, and I believe that things work out the way they are supposed to.  As hard as this injury was, I’m still grateful it happened.  Good things can and do come from life’s unfortunate events.  The day of my surgery, my replacement made her Broadway debut.  How awesome is that?!  I was able to spend seven months with my family and even have Thanksgiving AND Christmas with them!  When does an actor get to do that?  I got to really know my two nephews and my niece and have created incredible bonds with them that I would never have without the chance to spend that time with them.

Importantly, I found new passions in life during this process, like wanting to be able to work with dancers on injury prevention, something I’ve found absent in a dancer’s training.  I got my personal training certification this spring to work towards the ability to save others from injuries like mine.  This injury has made me even more grateful for the body I have been given.  It’s a miracle to walk every day, let alone dance.  I am stronger now than I was before.  I thank God that I can use my body and my new knee to be back doing what I love to do eight shows a week.  

As a dancer, an injury can feel like the end of the world.  It’s not. It is an opportunity.  Work hard and surround yourself with people you love, and I promise, you will get through it.  And as Ari’el Stachel said recently in his Tony Award acceptance speech, “sometimes your greatest obstacle becomes your purpose.”  

 Kirstin Tucker

Kirstin Tucker

"The Opportunity to Spread Our Wings."

Mo Brady

by Aisha Jackson

 Aisha Jackson

Aisha Jackson

I LOVE TO SING! Let’s just start there. I jump at the opportunity to utilize my gifts to transport people to another place, bring them joy, or make them feel inspired. I also LOOOOVE to remix songs. You should hear Alyssa Fox and I in our dressing room, every night, at Frozen. We have a rewrite for almost every note in the score. (Don’t tell Stephen…or Bobby…or Kristen!)

In musical theatre, we usually have to sing the score in a certain style or genre. Thus, we don’t always get the platform to sing exactly how we want to. Don’t get me wrong, we get to belt it out and mix it up sometimes, but we don’t always get complete creative freedom. When we walk into a rehearsal room, the music director for the show usually has a certain way he or she desires for the music to be sung. Very rarely do we get to option up, add a riff, or switch the tune up a bit. Rightfully so; the music written for the show is already beautiful, and sometimes our remixes can take away from the story line.

Broadway Sings, however, gives us the opportunity to spread our wings, get our creative juices flowing, and make some of the greatest hits of all time uniquely ours. It challenges us to cook up new versions of these songs that we hope are just as fierce as the original. Luckily, we don’t have to face this challenge alone: the great Corey Mach and Joshua Stephen Kartes have a work session with each of the performers to throw around ideas for how we’d like to mix things up. We can choose the style, tempo, key, and put in as many riffs as we please! Together, we work our magic to solidify the structure and flow of the song, then we go our separate ways until the band rehearsal. During rehearsal with the band, we get to hear the genius arrangements that Mr. Kartes creates for the 14-piece orchestra (he is absolutely magnificent!). We jam out and put the finishing touches on our song. Finally, we have a sound check the day of the concert and reveal our new pieces to the world that night!! 

I love being a part of these concerts because they give me the chance to explore different parts of my voice and be unapologetically ME! I’m super excited to perform at my second Broadway Sings concert next week and I cannot wait to shake things up with my very own version of Kelly Clarkson’s "Since U Been Gone.”

The 2018 Tony Awards - What Worked and What Didn't

Mo Brady

by Mo Brady

 Marjory Stonemann Douglas High School Students at the 2018 Tony Awards

Marjory Stonemann Douglas High School Students at the 2018 Tony Awards

In the opening moments of the 2018 Tony Awards, hosts Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles told the audience in Radio City Music Hall “If you make art at all, you’re a part of the cure.” For the next three hours, that mantra was reasserted time and again - but only as a half truth.

The 2018 Tony Awards was proof that the Broadway industry has doubled down on diversity and inclusion as their defining characteristics. During the ceremony, performances, speeches and productions that champion these ideas were celebrated. And shows who weren’t able to present those ideals seemed out of step and walked away empty-handed.

The big winner of the evening was The Band’s Visit, which proved early not only to walk away with the prizes it was predicted to (Best Score, Best Orchestrations, Best Direction of a Musical), but also surprised pundits by winning Best Book (usurping Tina Fey) and both Best Featured Actor and Best Actor in a Musical, for Ari’el Stachel and Tony Shalhoub, respectively.

At the ceremony, performances that celebrated inclusion seemed the most resonant, from the horde of cross-dressing poor parading in My Fair Lady’s “Get Me To The Church On Time,” to the goat-infused cavalcade of pulsing islanders in Once On This Island’s rendition of “Mama Will Provide.” Watching from home, each of these performances seemed to leap from the Radio City stage into audiences’ living rooms, beaconing theatre lovers to join their crazy, loving melanges.

Alternately, the performances for Mean Girls and SpongeBob SquarePants looked pristine, precise and, subsequently, out of step. While these productions feature diverse casts and inclusive messages, their safe performances during the telecast felt out of touch with the trajectory of the evening.

Acceptance speeches that advocated for multiplicity drummed up the most vocal support from the audience at Radio City. Both winners Lindsay Mendez and Ari’el Stachel shared stories of feeling their ethnicity needed to be hidden in order to be successful in the theatre industry. Their wins proved this unequivocally false, as Mendez told the crowd “I am so proud to be part of a community that celebrates diversity.” In fact, Stachel had perhaps the most memorable quote of the evening, saying “I want every kid out there to know that your greatest challenge may turn into your purpose.”

On social media, the Tony Awards found a success to inpoloring viewers to post photos of themselves onstage using the hashtag #tonydreaming. In the three hours of the telecast alone, the hashtag was used more the 23,000 times by both Broadway insiders and theatre students. Not since Neil Patrick Harris led 2013’s Tony-opening spectacular “Bigger is Better” has the ceremony invoked and celebrated TV audiences at home so successfully.

The most well-received performance of the evening was not from any of the nominated musicals, but rather a performance by drama students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. These twenty young survivors of a gun massacre performed Rent’s  “Seasons of Love,” a song about valuing every minute of every year, for an audience of 5,000 of their heroes and future collaborators. Audiences at home and in the theatre leaned towards the stage both physically and emotionally, sending love, solace and encouragement to the student performers. Their performance resulted in what was notably the only number of the evening to receive a standing ovation.

"Every Number is Packed with Energy and Heart."

Mo Brady

by Marjorie Failoni

 Marjorie Failoni

Marjorie Failoni

It’s Broadway Bares season! This is such an important fundraiser and is the hottest show of the year! The work that Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS does for so many people across the country is just outstanding.  

I had been to Broadway Bares twice before this year and had the time of my life. Watching how much everyone was empowered dancing on that stage and how it promoted body positivity was just incredible. It was always something I wanted to do at least once, but I was either out of town working on a show or the timing wasn’t right for me to be a part of it. But this year, being a current member of the Broadway community and knowing I could fully commit to this project, I thought, this is my chance to do it!  

I am extremely lucky because I am working on two different pieces this year. I am assisting Lisa Stevens with her piece and I am performing in Ricky Hinds’ piece. Being on both sides of the table has made me really feel a part of the process. Both numbers are completely different styles and it has been a blast to push myself and work with both choreographers who inspire me. Rehearsals are extremely fun and upbeat and it’s a great way to get to know so many different people. Every number is packed full of energy and heart. 

But most importantly, this is a fundraiser! The team spirit that is created to help push people to raise funds for BC/EFA is what really makes this event special. I was never someone who was comfortable asking people for money and I thought this would be the biggest struggle for me.  The moment I just started asking and getting ideas from others, the easier it became, and the more comfortable I felt asking for money for an organization that I truly believe in. It’s really exciting to be a part of something that is truly bigger than just “putting on a show.” It has been a truly amazing experience so far and I can’t wait to be up on that stage this weekend!

 Marjorie Failoni and other Broadway performers in  Broadway Bares.

Marjorie Failoni and other Broadway performers in Broadway Bares.

"It's Hard to Know When the Time is Right."

Mo Brady

by Shina Ann Morris

Anastasia was the first show I have ever originated a role in, starting my journey with our out-of-town production in Hartford, so I've felt like I had a part in bringing these characters to life. Though bits and parts and stories I loved were cut by the time we opened here on Broadway, I still felt so humbled to have created something as an original cast member (that wasn't a revival). 

 Shina Ann Morris

Shina Ann Morris

I completed about 550 shows by the time I left the show. My decision to leave was actually a combination of two things: I've been nursing a knee injury that my doctor decided was time to operate on, so I'll be having minor surgery soon. Dealing with a chronic injury while doing a show eight times a week is frustrating and at times very painful. We performers are extremely tough and will suffer through a lot for our craft. At first, I was to take a leave from the show to have the surgery, but when an opportunity presented itself to be a part of How to Succeed... at the Kennedy Center (bless you, Denis Jones!), I jumped at the chance. Around the same time, I was offered a track in the out-of-town tryout of Tootsie, so what became a leave from Anastasia ultimately turned into giving my notice. 

To me, it was a very strange thing to give my notice. I always joke to myself that I'm the "Broadway closer"; I'll be with a show until it closes. People kept asking me how I felt about my time ending with Anastasia, and "bittersweet" was the word that kept coming to me. I love the people in this show DEEPLY. We are a crazy, crazy group of people who LOVE TO SNACK, have shenanigans, and just genuinely like each other. I feel so blessed to have spent the last year and change with these people. I will miss being their Comrade the most. I also love singing this glorious music, and love getting to be a princess, even if dancing in a heavy princess dress is pretty hard! 

I think the hard part about leaving a show is knowing when the time is right. A while ago, I was having a difficult time coming to work and trying not to be the dark cloud of the bunch. I'm not quite sure what was going on inside my soul, but there was a point where I thought if I stayed, I would make myself and others around me really unhappy. The last thing I wanted to do was be in a place where I brought negativity around. I think a lot of it had to do with my injuries and the amount of pain I was in, and how I dealt with not being able to live and perform to my full capacity. It can truly take a toll on your heart and soul.

Saying goodbye to Anastasia was easier knowing 1) I'd see these wonderful people again. You never say "goodbye", it's always "see you later"; 2) I am taking the time to heal my body, and at the simultaneously my mind and soul; and 3) I had a gig to dive into after my recovery. I am very aware how blessed I am for this, and I am so grateful for the JOURNEY I took with Anastasia

Until we meet again...

 Shina Ann Morris and the cast of  Anastasia

Shina Ann Morris and the cast of Anastasia

"To Be Completely Honest, I'm Freaking Out!"

Mo Brady

by Ahmad Simmons

 Ahmad Simmons

Ahmad Simmons

Today was a big day for the Broadway cast of Carousel. We had our pre-record for the vocals and our spacing on the Radio City stage. There were so many little things to record that I hadn’t even thought about. We started by laying down the vocal tracks that just included a few choruses and then the ending. Totally straightforward and easy. Then we moved onto to the sounds of the actual movement. This was a bit more challenging. Justin Peck’s choreography for the number uses a lot of heavy footwork and stomping to accentuate the grit and masculinity of the piece while still maintaining a sense of style and finesse. All of which had to be perfectly reflected in the recording so that it matched what you’ll see on the stage. You’ll have to let us know how we did! 

And now the most INCREDIBLE part of my day. Camera blocking rehearsal. Oh my goodness. Nothing really could’ve prepared me for the overwhelming amount of joy, pride, and gratitude I felt walking into the Radio City theater (once I got past the security screening..). First thing I see is a sea of people, cameras, lights, and tech tables. I got there just in time to watch some friends nailing it up onstage in My Fair Lady. Justin Peck came and greeted us all in his usual casual and sincere way. Our stage managers and wardrobe folks were right there at the ready with “the boots." All I could think about was the little brown boy in Fort Worth, Texas trying to dance like Bob Fosse and sing like every church lady on the original The Color Purple cast album. This is it! What I’ve waited for since... well birth. I stood there for a while looking out at the massive amount of seats - some already assigned to celebrity presenters and Broadway legends by photo cards. You better believe I took pictures sitting next to Patti LuPone. 

FullSizeRender.jpg

Reality sets in and I have to snap my mind out of awe and into work mode. The guys and I gathered onstage to start our spacing. We had tons more depth so we made a few adjustments to really let the stage breath and then started the camera runs. Between each take we’d all try and run backstage to see a bit of playback. Each time we watched it was like a bunch a jocks/schoolgirls rooting for each other and grinning about our little standout moments. After MANY runs, our time was up. I wanted to pull an Effie White and sing “And I Am Telling You”  but they run a tight ship so there was no time for games. 

To be completely honest, I’m freaking out! The anticipation of this Tony performance is killing me! The amount of times I’ve watched past performances online imagining what it must feel like is absurd. Growing up in a performing arts school in Fort Worth, Texas, we had our own little hometown version of the Tonys called the Betty Buckley Awards. I would get the exact same feeling as I have now! I’m so proud of Carousel and what we get to do every night. I’m beyond excited to be making my Tony Awards debut performing choreography that I believe will be considered a landmark in theater history. We’ll be performing a condensed version of “Blow High, Blow Low” - an all male, dance your boots off number that we’ve condensed from an eight-minute extravaganza to a power-packed, super full stage three-minute showstopper.

 Ahmad Simmons and the cast of  Carousel

Ahmad Simmons and the cast of Carousel

"Tune In on the 10th to See the Magic."

Mo Brady

by Kerstin Anderson

 Kerstin Anderson

Kerstin Anderson

Well it’s Tony Award time! Usually this means gathering with a group of friends in front of the TV, dolling out Hershey kisses for correctly guessing the winners, and lots of shushing when the performances are on. But, this year I’m getting a whole new perspective on Tony broadcast. This past April, I made my Broadway debut in Lincoln Center Theater’s My Fair Lady, and on June 10 I’m making my Tony debut (is that a thing?)!

The first thing they told us was that we would be doing a medley that includes all of our nominees (except Dame Diana Rigg ... but she’s Dame Diana Rigg so she didn’t mind) and the entire ensemble. Next we found out that all of our incredible swings would be performing with us: a first for Lincoln Center and very exciting! They work so hard and we love them so much. The entire company was thrilled when we heard we would get to share the Tony stage with them. After much celebration it was time to get to work.

Our first rehearsal was focused on the broad strokes of our performance. What songs would be included, how would we transition between them, would anyone need to do a quick change? Luckily we have a team of experienced pros at the helm. Bart Sher had a fairly clear idea of how he wanted the performance to progress. An intimate start with a single focus, then incrementally zoom out further and further until finally the entire stage was being used. What I really admire about our team of actors and creatives is their dedication to storytelling; Every choice they made was based on how to best communicate the journey of the characters and show our interpretation of My Fair Lady. In the following rehearsals we worked out all the details. Bart, Christopher Gattelli, and Ted Sperling worked together to answer the big overarching question:  How would we fit our nearly three hour show into a four-minute time slot? This proved to be a bit of a challenge. You’ll have to tune in on the 10th to see how they worked their magic.

Among all the questions, one thing was certain: I was elated. Growing up in Vermont, an aspiring actor, I was so moved by the broadcast. I distinctly remember the 2013 Neil Patrick Harris opening number. You know the one where he looked right into the camera and said, “There’s a kid in the middle of nowhere living for Tony performances… [and] I promise you, all of us up here tonight, we were that kid,” and the audience of celebrities gave it a standing ovation. Well I was home in Vermont, just about to graduate high school and hearing those words absolutely electrified me. I felt like anything was possible; that the dream of being on Broadway was attainable. Flash forward to now. It’s not hyperbole to say that I am truly humbled and honored to be a part of the Broadcast.

Later this week we have to record our ensemble vocals, visit Radio City Music Hall for camera blocking rehearsals, and then of course… DO THE THING!

"Finally, Momma! My Moment Has Come!"

Mo Brady

by Curtis Holbrook

 Curtis Holbrook

Curtis Holbrook

It’s a big week for us Bikini Bottom citizens in SpongeBob SquarePants The Broadway Musical, as well as for the entire Broadway community..... IT’S TONY TIME, BABY! As we gear up for the final push of awards season, I thought it would be fun to share with my fellow theater lovers just what goes into creating a Tony performance.

It has truly been fascinating and awe-inspiring to watch our remarkable leaders - Tina Landau & Co. - navigate how to best represent our show when it comes to a nationally televised performance. It is very rare for any Broadway show to be able to film something for camera exactly how it functions in the show. This is because of many different reasons: dealing with some sort of time constraint, numbers not working out of context, blocking or choreography not working as well for camera… you get the idea. How do you tell the story in the clearest way but also still infuse the performance with the wacky, bombastic, subtle, important, cartoon-ish, NOT cartoon-ish, fun, non-sensical, relatable, human, non-human DNA that our show possesses? Yes, all of those things need to be represented in three-ish minutes, because that is our show. 

The first thing that happens is our creative team comes up with what they think is the best possible performance for this specific appearance. Once that decision is made, they inform us as to what number we will present and what the game plan/focus will be. Now, for the Tony Awards specifically, our team has the crazy task of cutting what is normally an almost six-minute number down to three-ish. Woof! But, just like the surgeons that our creatives were in fine-tuning our show’s final product, they have managed to edit our number to still include all the things that make the it spectacular.

Here’s how the magic comes together: We went into a rehearsal studio a couple of weeks ago after a Wednesday matinee, and learned the cuts musically and then married that with what needed to change choreographically. The next Wednesday night we presented our finalized number to the Tony Award creative and production team, and they filmed what is known as a “Scratch Tape." This tape is used by their team to come up with a plan for camera blocking (which camera angles will be the most impactful). This past Wednesday morning, we had a clean-up rehearsal for camera blocking at Radio City and then the actual camera blocking on Thursday! Finally, Sunday is the big day! All of the shows will go to Radio City Music Hall in the morning for a full dress rehearsal, then go back to our theaters and do a matinee performance and then turn right around to do final preparations to appear on the TONY AWARDS! Wowza!

It’s a super exciting time for us, especially because we have a lot of Broadway debuts in our show, AND they get to dance on the Tony Awards while making their debut! I just remember my 16-year-old self watching The Lion King on the Tony Awards with my Mom (who was my dance teacher) and thinking, “Wow... I hope I can perform on the Tony Awards one day.” As Squidward says in our show, “Finally Momma! My moment has come!”

 

 Curtis Holbrook in  SpongeBob SquarePants

Curtis Holbrook in SpongeBob SquarePants

"I Could See What Worked and What Didn't."

Mo Brady

by Adam Kaplan

 Tommy Bracco and Adam Kaplan

Tommy Bracco and Adam Kaplan

When I joined the company of Newsies in 2013, I heard that a lot of the cast would teach dance workshops to students that were coming to see the show. One day, my castmate Tommy Bracco asked me to fill in for one of those workshops, and I’m so glad I did. In high school I loved when actors would come in from New York City and do masterclasses with us. I looked up to them. I wanted to be them. I wrote down every word they said. So the idea that I could offer the same experience to these aspiring artists was so thrilling for me. Now, five years, and hundreds of workshops, private coachings, and lessons later, I’m so excited that Tommy and I have teamed up to create LION ARTS.

Tommy approached me about this idea a few months ago because we share a passion for teaching. We really are just as passionate about working with young artists as we are performing. We want LION ARTS to be a one stop shop for young actors who want to pursue a career in theatre. We offer audition and acting intensives, private lessons, college audition prep courses, and more. The life of an actor is stressful (believe me, I know) and we want to make this process as stress-free for them and their parents. 

Why the name LION ARTS, you ask? Well, Tommy and I are both born in August (a day apart)! We’re Leos. Hence, LION ARTS! But on a deeper level, lions are strong, proud and confident. Exactly how we want our students to feel when they walk into an audition room, on stage, and in everyday life.  

College audition prep, in particular, is something I’m extremely passionate about. When I was a student at Elon (go, Phoenix!), I was the assistant to the head of the BFA Music Theatre program. I sat in on, and helped coordinate, thousands of auditions for prospective students. I saw what the program heads were drawn to, what worked, and more importantly what didn’t. I bring that knowledge to my students in order to make them feel as comfortable and prepared as possible in this uneasy time.

Tommy and I are offering our inaugural audition intensive June 21-24 in New York City. We hope you join us and together, we will work towards building an artistic foundation for the future stars of Broadway. Come join the pride! 

 Tommy Bracco and Adam Kaplan in  Newsies

Tommy Bracco and Adam Kaplan in Newsies

"It Gives Me Goosebumps."

Mo Brady

by Jonalyn Saxer

It’s Tony time! And it is truly everything. Every single day since the nominations have come out has been exciting. The press, the extra rehearsals, and the general atmosphere in the theater has been insane! A day that for so long seemed so far away is now suddenly here.

 Jonalyn Saxer in  Mean Girls

Jonalyn Saxer in Mean Girls

The day after the nominations came out we couldn’t even think about the Tonys, because we were having our rehearsal for our performance on the Today Show. But that rehearsal gave us the opportunity to come together as a cast and have fun with each other! We then had a short meeting onstage before the show with Casey to: 1. Celebrate, and 2. Talk about all the incredible things that would be happening. We were going to be performing on the Tonys! Yet we still didn’t know what number we would do and who would be involved.

A couple weeks went by, and rumors started to fly. Then the day came, and not only were we told what number we would be performing, but that every single person in the company would be a part of it. And that is truly the most magical thing about our show and this process. Our swings and standby actually started to tear up when they heard the news. So often we can get looked over as cast members onstage and off. We are part of the machine that makes the show work, and we will do whatever is required of us to make it the best show. But, in a world where everything costs money, some things are up in the air. Our team and producers said, “We do this together and we do it as a family.” Sunday, June 10 will not only be about the wonderful season of theater this year and a great chance to show the world some of our show, but to spend a whole day as a complete cast celebrating this incredible thing we’ve created.

We had one day of rehearsal to prep for the Tonys, and we won’t rehearse again until Thursday before the Tonys. As the day creeps up, we’re getting nervous and sometimes asking, “wait, do I remember what I did?!” It was a mad dash to get the number together and figure it out. Luckily, we had been through such a crazy preview and out of town process, it almost felt like we had gone back to normal. Our cast has a very “I can make that work” attitude that really serves us in these situations. Sometimes we aren’t even close to our actual positions in the show, but it doesn’t matter! We have put together a one of a kind performance that truly shows off our show for what it is and what we can do. We have to deal with a time limit, so there are some parts that are a little faster than normal, but it just adds to the energy of the whole experience! We are a big huge musical full of different characters, and that is what we are representing on the stage. Creating a number for the Tonys is such a specific challenge. We have a chance to show the whole nation, the whole WORLD, some of what is happening at the August Wilson every night.

It gives me goosebumps to think about how I used to watch the Tonys growing up in Los Angeles. In high school I would spend hours looking up number after number on YouTube. Now I’m going to be on that stage. Some teen is going to watch and memorize what we do in our Tony number by watching it over and over again, just as I did. This is a moment when your show becomes immortal. Not only am I excited to hopefully inspire some young performer out there, but I will forever have this to look back on and remember. It seems almost too good to be true. I love what I do. I get to live my dreams eight times a week on a Broadway stage. To get to have this experience in addition is like a gold-plated cherry on top. As an ensemble member, I would love our show to win all the awards. However, even if we don’t, this experience is worth every second of blood, sweat, and tears I have put into doing what I love, no matter what.

 Jonalyn Saxer (second from right) and the cast of  Mean Girls

Jonalyn Saxer (second from right) and the cast of Mean Girls

"I Can't Wait to Bring Jerome Robbins' Broadway Back to Life."

Mo Brady


Tanairi Vazquez is a true Broadway triple threat. A current member of the Broadway cast of Hamilton, she has created roles for esteemed choreographers from Josh Bergasse to Sergio Trujillo. Since 2009, she has created roles in five Broadway productions. Her virtuosity ranges from hop hop to salsa. Yet, she has never played a leading role. Until now.

 Tanairi Vazquez

Tanairi Vazquez

Next week, The Muny will mount the first professional production of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway in nearly 30 years. Last week, the full cast of 50 performers was revealed. Among them are a handful of experienced Broadway ensemblists taking on iconic principal roles, some for the first time. Vazquez, who performed in the ensemble of Broadway’s most recent revival of West Side Story, will play Anita at The Muny.

Leeds Hill, who performed in the most recent Broadway revival of Cabaret, is returning to The Muny stage where he performed in Beauty and the Beast, Damn Yankees and Footloose. This summer, he will be taking on the role of Ozzie in the On The Town suite that opens Jerome Robbins’ Broadway.  “I’m thrilled to return to The Muny,” he notes. “They gave me my Equity Card back in 2010, for which I am incredibly grateful. I’m excited to return to a theatre I love in a town I love to learn and perform iconic choreography and celebrate a milestone for both Jerome Robbins’ Broadway and The Muny.”

In the show, Hill, Vazquez and others will perform some of Robbins’ most iconic dance suites from On The Town, Billion Dollar Baby, Peter Pan, High Button Shoes and Call Me Madam. This wide array of choreographic styles is one of the reasons so many Broadway veterans have joined this company.

“Robbins has a vast repertoire of work that spans many different styles and cultures,” notes Hill, “from West Side Story to Fiddler On The Roof to The King and I. He’s able to evolve and adapt his own style to fit each specific show to tell the story.”

 Leeds Hill in  Cabaret

Leeds Hill in Cabaret

In addition to performing these well-known ballets, Jerome Robbins’ Broadway also includes lesser known dance suites from his Broadway productions of High Button Shoes and Billion Dollar Baby. “I’m looking forward to seeing his other choreographic work from shows he’s done,” admits Vazquez.

“What makes Jerome Robbins’ choreography so iconic is the storytelling within the dance,” says Leeds Hill. “The plot doesn’t stop when it’s time to dance, it is furthered. Yes, this had been done before, but the way in which Robbins made every move, every gesture, every turn of the head part of the way of telling the story is what makes his choreography so iconic.”

“The specificity, clarity and musicality of each step and how it syncs almost perfectly with the music,” continues Vazquez. “You truly feel the passion behind the movement once it’s in your body.”

Robbins’ unmistakable style is being brought to life by director and choreographer Cynthia Onrubia, who assisted Robbins on the original Broadway production of the show. “I’m also excited to work with Cynthia again,” says Hill. “We worked together on the Broadway and touring production of Cabaret. And since she was in the original cast of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, I’ll get to learn the choreography secondhand. It is a real honor.”

Along with Hill and Vazquez, the company spans to include both Broadway powerhouses like Rob McClure and Jenny Powers, and recent college graduates such as Davis Wayne and Kyle Samuel. “I’m so excited to be working with this ensemble of incredibly talented and hardworking performers. I know we’re going to do Jerome Robbins’ iconic choreography justice because of the high caliber of the performers and the incredible direction we will be under.”

“It’s going to be such a learning experience to watch all of these actors at their best,” says Vazquez. “I cannot wait to share the stage with all of them and bring Jerome Robbins’ Broadway back to life this season.”

 

First Day of The Muny's Jerome Robbins' Broadway

Mo Brady

by Robin Masella

Our first day here of rehearsal for Jerome Robbins' Broadway at The Muny was incredible! We arrived to the theater this morning. It is in a huge beautiful park, the zoo nearby, botanical gardens down the road. We were greeted by many friendly and excited faces. We all assembled in the rehearsal space, which I can’t say enough good things about. It is an outdoor rehearsal oasis. A huge outdoor platform with big fans overhead to circulate the air. You are surrounded by nature; trees, green grass hills, and chirping birds. What more could you ask for to rehearse in the calm and beauty of nature?

 Robin Masella

Robin Masella

We all assembled for a meet and greet. 49 cast members and an almost equal amount of staff and creatives. The people here are wonderful. You can feel it is a true community and family of people who love the arts and what they do. The Muny's Artistic Director, Mike Issacson, gave a beautiful speech to welcome us all. He said the reason we are all here is because of those who came before us. Those artists who created these incredible shows and the genius himself, Jerome Robbins. Our fearless leader, and Jerome’s associate on Broadway, Cynthia Onrubia reminded us that above all, Robbins wanted you to be an actor. That the actor came first and then the dancer.

I truly believe Jerome Robbins was one of the greatest choreographers of all time. I have always been fascinated with the vastness of his work. Robbins was a master storyteller through dance. West Side Story, for example, begins with a 10-minute ballet. It sets up the entire show for you without a spoken word. Everyone in the audience understands exactly what is about to happen for the next two hours. Then to completely switch gears to Fiddler on the Roof where he dives into the culture and traditions of the people. It is masterful. His work in the ballet world was extraordinary as well. Dances at a Gathering is one of my favorite ballets of all time.

This cast is unbelievable! So much talent! Lots of friends and former co-workers, as well as new faces that I'm very excited to be working alongside. I think it’s such an honor to be entrusted with the material as an ensemble member. We have the privilege of recreating exact choreography from multiple of Jerome Robbins works that were created 30 plus years ago, all in one evening of show. The best of the best.

I am particularly excited to be working with Cynthia Onrubia and Chris Bailey. I have worked with Chris on several projects and he is so smart and talented. Cynthia was Jerome’s assistant for Jerome Robbins' Broadway. We couldn't ask for a better person to learn this material from, someone who was there first hand and really knows the material and the backstories. 

It felt wonderful to finally be together as a full company. We had an added few days in NYC this past week where we learned the entirety of West Side Story suites. The cast was initially separated by days and sections and when we finally came together on Sunday, I was immediately in awe and in love with this cast.

Today we spent the day learning On The Town. The boys are leaping and jumping sailors on the prowl, while the girls are sophisticated New York society. Wow, it is fast paced and your brains and bodies have to be ON! I am so in awe of the talent of this cast, one day in and it’s performance ready.

Jerome Robbins' Broadway is my Muny debut! I have always wanted to work at The Muny, it is an iconic regional theater. Not only for the shear size of it, the fact that it’s outdoors, but I have always heard the quality of theater that is produced is exceptional. Two weeks of rehearsal to put up a giant show like this seems almost impossible, but I’m so excited for the challenge. I am very excited that my Muny debut is with this incredible show.


Jerome Robbins’ Broadway opens The Muny’s historic centennial season June 11 - 17. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit their website.

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5 Debut Questions - Aladdin's Jacob Gutierrez

Mo Brady

Today on our blog, we welcome Aladdin's newest ensemblist, Jacob Gutierrez, to Broadway and learn about his journey to the Great White Way:

 Jacob Gutierrez

Jacob Gutierrez

1. What's your name and hometown?

I’m Jacob Gutierrez, born and raised in Hays, KS. (The only reason you’d go there is if you’re passing through driving from Kansas City to Denver on I-70. )

2. What is your role/track in your Broadway debut?

I’m in the ensemble in Aladdin

3. How did you find out you had booked the part?

I had been in callbacks for the tour, and my agent called and did the whole, “I have good news and bad news. Bad news is, you didn’t get the Aladdin tour, but that’s because you’ll be making your debut in the Broadway Company.” And cue screaming from me. My roommate, Michael, ran out of his room because he thought something was wrong from the screaming. Haha. “Nah, man. Broadway called.” 

4. What's been the most surprising thing about preparing to perform the show?

I’m most surprised by the number of bags of Epsom salts I’ve purchased in the process of learning this show. Bath time is my new favorite time. Haha! Gotta take care of the bod. 

Oh, and also! I debuted a day early. I had finished my put-in, and ran to Kobeyaki to grab two dinners, because I was starving, when I got a call from our PSM 90 minutes before curtain, saying, “You’re on tonight.” I took one bite of my food, stopped, and went to the theatre to warm up. My family, who had tickets for the next day, were all able to score tickets for that night in the 5th and 6th row. Pretty special, and a great story. 

5. What are you looking forward to most about your experience on Broadway?

I’m looking forward to settling into a new rhythm with a new company and continuing to grow in relationship with the incredible artists that are part of this Broadway community. It’s a community I am so grateful to be a part of, and I am amazed daily by the people who surround me that I’m fortunate enough to call colleagues. 

 Jacob Gutierrez

Jacob Gutierrez

"We Come Up With Our Own World."

Mo Brady

by Valerie Nagel

As on any sports team or group activity, there is a bond that happens in the cast of a musical. Whether you are a high schooler or on Broadway, the cast of a show inevitably becomes family. It’s an innate thing that happens to a company while going through these processes like tech, previews and running a show.

 Jesse Swimm

Jesse Swimm

Jesse Swimm is an original cast member in School of Rock - The Musical on Broadway. He was also travelled as an actor in with three European tours, and an understudy for Bert on Mary Poppins on Broadway among many others. With all this experience under his actor’s belt, Jesse shared what it is like being an ensemble member and why it is so special, maybe even more so than when one plays a leading role.

The feeling of family is not the only similarity between high school and professional productions. According to Swimm, both include homework. He described the assignments that the ensemble got while on tour with My Fair Lady. The cast would split into groups and have very specific topics based on the time frame of the death of the king in London. The directors wanted them to study the different aspects of that time, and Jesse said “it became a history lesson."

He also mentioned how a cast member brought in beers from different pubs and the cast tried them out. Jesse stated that "the audience wasn't going to know we did this kind of work. What it did for us as an ensemble and I think what people don't necessarily realize when they come see a show is the amount of work we put into being in the ensemble, sometimes can be far greater than what a principal is putting in."

"Where the principals have their part laid out for them," continued Swimm, "we are taking it upon ourselves to come up with our own world. Creating these imaginary circumstances, we are a fluid part of the story that moves seamlessly in and out without it being obvious that we are there or making it seem false.”

After all this work, Swimm believes that a Tony Award for Best Ensemble help theater students understand that an understudy, swing or ensemble role is important to any show. Growing up in Southern California, Jesse saw a plethora of shows at the Segerstrom Theater in Costa Mesa, CA: "I very much remember going to see shows. The one thing I always loved was when I would open up the Playbill and look through the bios of the ensemble members. What really did it for me and made me feel connected to them was when I saw their bios and saw that they have done a show that I have done and I felt like a part of something.”

Swimm says that having the ensemble showcased at the Tony Awards would do no harm. "It would boost our industry. The ensemble is a very integral part of the story. An award for our work would help audiences see the whole picture, because we create the world around the story onstage."

 

"Every Person is Just as Excited as the Next."

Mo Brady

The signature battement in West Side Story, the flight of Peter Pan, the three sailors in On the Town. “All of these images only hold significance to musical theatre lovers,” says actor Drew Redington. “But ask anyone in the ‘muggle’ world and they will know these iconic Broadway silhouettes as well.”

 Drew Redington

Drew Redington

Redington is a long-time veteran of The Muny in St. Louis, where he has performed in Oklahoma!, Hairspray, 42nd Street and Hello, Dolly! among others. Having made his Broadway debut in Holiday Inn last season, he will be returning to the Great White Way in The Prom this fall. But beforehand, he returns to The Muny this summer to join the just-announced cast of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway.

In less than two weeks, The Muny will stage the first professional production of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway in nearly 30 years. Last week, the full cast of 50 performers was revealed. Among the company are many Muny veterans who have performed in Broadway ensembles, including Peter Chursin (On The Town), Leeds Hill (Cabaret) and Chris Lingner (On The Town). However, the cast also features numerous Broadway ensemblists making their Muny debuts, such as Tanairi Vazquez (Hamilton), Hillary Porter (A Bronx Tale The Musical) and Robin Masella (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).

These scores of actors will perform some of Robbins’ most iconic dance suites from On The Town, Billion Dollar Baby, West Side Story, The King and I, Peter Pan, High Button Shoes, Call Me Madam and Fiddler On The Roof.

“It's difficult to pinpoint Robbins' style since his pieces span cultures and generations,” notes Darien Crago, a member of the Jerome Robbins’ Broadway ensemble. “However, you can always find unity in his use of rhythm and playfulness with music.” “Robbins’ musicality is incomparable,” says Sarah Marie Jenkins, who will play Peter Pan in The Muny’s production. “His movement really, truly makes you feel like you are making the music, not just dancing to it.”

 Darien Crago

Darien Crago

‘What makes Robbins so iconic is his creation of characters through dance,” says Redington. “In all of his pieces, not only do you see dancers excel with profound technique, but you also witness actors portraying fully developed characters and human beings. Robbins' creations are so detailed, the characters he helped create have connected with the human race on a level sincere and honest enough to withstand the test of time.”

"His work is iconic because it simply and effectively stirs your emotions,” says Crago. “Whether it's feeling anxious and restless during "Cool" in West Side Story, silly and stubborn like the 'Moderns' in Million Dollar Baby, or sheer joy as Peter Pan is flying, Jerome Robbins helped shape the idea that dance should imitate life and influence our state of mind.”

These iconic moments of musical theatre will be brought together by director and choreographer Cynthia Onrubia, who assisted Robbins on the original Broadway production of the show. “I'm super excited to learn from Cynthia Onrubia,” says Jenkins, who is making her Muny debut in the show. “Being able to absorb as much information as possible from the person who helped Jerome Robbins create this show is beyond!”

Onrubia will be joined by recent Chita Rivera Award nominee Chris Bailey as production supervisor and a legion of additional choreographers including Dan Knechtges, Ralph Perkins and Harrison Beal.

“It feels a bit like we're opening a time capsule, getting to revisit these beloved numbers that span musical theater history,” notes Crago. “Even after the audition, I felt like I had a master class with Onrubia and Bailey. The creative team the Muny has assembled and brought together is top-notch.”

 Sarah Marie Jenkins

Sarah Marie Jenkins

Much of that creative team with be putting up rarely-staged choreography, from Robbins’ “Charleston” from Billion Dollar Baby to “On a Sunday By The Sea” from High Button Shoes.  “I'm most looking forward to tackling pieces of Robbins' that most people didn't even know existed,” notes Redington. “I myself was unaware of some pieces until I read the script.”

No matter the roles they will play and the choreography they will learn, each member of The Muny’s production seems to be treasuring being cast in the show. “What's awesome is every person involved is just as excited as the next,” says Jenkins. “It feels like we were all picked to attend the coolest summer camp where the activities are singing and dancing our faces off, then jumping in a collective ice bath.”

“To be a part of this wonderful ensemble makes me grateful and proud as a performer,” admits Redington. “It's a wonderful piece of musical theatre history we get to bring back to life for just a week, making it even more special.”

“Just a dream to be part of this ensemble -- in a review-style show that celebrates some of Robbins' most loved Broadway work,” says Crago. Jenkins agrees that performing the show feels like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: “There is something about presenting Jerome Robbins’ Broadway to an audience for the first time in 30 years that makes it different from a regular summer stock show. I feel like I won the lottery.”

 

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"There is Going to be Magic Flying All Over That Stage."

Mo Brady

by Hillary Porter

In theatre, when we want to express something, we use words. We just say it. But sometimes, “just saying it” doesn’t accurately portray how we feel, so we heighten the emotion with a melody. And we sing it. And then there are times when words simply aren’t enough. When the emotion is so transcendent, it overcomes us and we must use our entire physicality to express how we feel. And we dance it. And I think that’s how I can best describe Jerome Robbins’ choreography. 

 Hillary Porter

Hillary Porter

It is, in a word, iconic. And that’s due to the expression, the storytelling, and the narrative that is so rooted in all of his movement. Jerome Robbins choreographed West Side StoryOn the TownFiddler on the RoofGypsyThe King and I, and Peter Pan… to name a few. He was a man who wore many hats, and his choreography shows that. The moves are so smart, and not because they are extremely intricate. Whether his movement is complicated or simple (don’t get me wrong, simple and easy are not interchangeable here, it’s ALL challenging), through the storytelling of his choreography, whether it’s a full-fledged dream ballet, or the smallest hand movement, they all ignite the exact sentiment the audience should feel when watching it. It is exciting, passionate, heartbreaking, hilarious, and exhilarating. He enhances the storyline and the music through his movement. You could almost take out the dialogue, take out the lyrics, and you would still understand everything that was being said on that stage. After all, we’re talking about a man who found a way for tough, threatening, rivaling gangs to fight… through ballet. 

All of this brings me to say, I am stoked that The Muny is bringing Jerome Robbins’ Broadway back to the stage. And even more over-the-moon that I get to be a part of it. I’ve never worked at The Muny, and had never even auditioned for the theatre before this year, but it was always one of those theatres that was on my list of where I wanted to work. So I’m extremely grateful that they held dance appointments in New York City for this particular show. I’ve had a lot of friends work at The Muny, and every single one of them talks about the “Muny Magic” that occurs there. It’s indescribable, and isn’t felt anywhere else. I can’t wait to experience it myself for the first time.

Absolutely everything about The Muny’s productions is top notch. You know that their entire process, from casting to “curtain” must be a well-oiled machine, otherwise how could they accomplish all that they do? We have a week and a half to put up the monumental production that is Jerome Robbins’ Broadway… so when a theatre is known for producing magnificent show after magnificent show, and then you learn how little of a rehearsal process each show has before its incredible outcome, you know you’re going to be working somewhere exceptional. And I can’t wait for the challenging, yet rewarding experience that comes with learning a full show so quickly.

And this show in particular is really going to be something special. Not only am I excited to do such a dance-heavy musical, but it’s the first professional production of the show since the Broadway and National Touring productions… nearly 30 years ago!! It’s a Tony Award Winning Best Musical that is essentially a revue of Jerome Robbins’ other shows, and putting everything together is no small feat. Headed by our fearless Director/Choreographer Cynthia Onrubia and Production Supervisor Chris Bailey, all of our creatives have been re-constructing, re-notating, and digging back into archives to even make it possible to perform this show on a stage again. And getting to perform it outside on such a huge stage with an enormous cast is going to be an incredible experience.

We have a cast of 49 amazing performers that I simply CAN’T WAIT to see altogether. Seriously, go. check. out. that. cast list! During the auditions, I remember looking around the room at the final callback and thinking, “How are they ever going to narrow it down? Absolutely everyone is so incredibly talented.” But this is a show that requires many different skills and types of people, it’s such an ensemble show, even more so now than before. We have fewer performers in this show than what it formerly took to create it on Broadway. Originally, they had different performers for singing features than those who were hired as dancers. But not at The Muny! Everyone is an actor, a singer, and a dancer in their own right… those with singing features are also the ones performing ballets and all of the athletic choreography. Talk about a true ensemble, everyone is doing everything. It’s not every day that you get to be part of (re)creating something so legendary, so I feel beyond fortunate to be a part of this historic production and to share it with such unbelievable people. And even before experiencing it, I can assure you that when this puzzle is completed, there is going to be magic flying all over that stage.


Jerome Robbins’ Broadway opens The Muny’s historic centennial season June 11 - 17. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit their website.

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"We Have Six Females Doing the Work of 18 Girls."

Mo Brady

by Kaitlyn Frank

 Kaitlyn Frank

Kaitlyn Frank

The Will Rogers Follies is a grand and dazzling musical which follows the life of Will Rogers through the lens of Florence Ziegfeld of the Ziegfeld Follies. The original 1991 production was spectacular (literally) featuring an ensemble of 18 gorgeous Follies girls, a giant staircase, a dog show, a professional roper etc. Needless to say, it is a huge feat to produce it at the Goodspeed Opera House- a beautiful quaint theatre in East Haddam, CT.

The team collaborated to find creative and brilliant solutions for the unexpected challenges given the historic architecture of the theatre. Not only is this challenging from a design and staging perspective, but it also creates new challenges for the ensemble. With the increasing trend of paired down productions of larger musicals, the demands of the ensemble member have grown tremendously.

In this case, we have six females in the ensemble doing the work of 18 girls. Every time we step on stage we are a completely different character - down and dirty tap dancing cowgirls, quirky comedic single sisters, fabulous follies showgirls, and satirical political constituents in “Our Favorite Son.” The ensemble women are not only required to be true triple threats, but we also do rope tricks! (Not to mention the understudies in the ensemble who also play multiple musical instruments). However, this is not a complaint. It is so fun to do an ensemble track that allows me to practice a different skill, dance style and character every time I step on the stage. It is so rewarding to feel that you are flexing all of your muscles as a performer. Our choreographer, Kelli Barclay, has done an incredible job of creating unique character driven choreography that not only feels amazing to dance, but also gives the illusion that there are at least a dozen girls on stage.


Through the creativity of these “music box” productions, musicals like The Will Rogers Follies  can be produced and shared with communities that would not have otherwise had the opportunity to experience it. The Will Rogers Follies has such a touching message, speaking on the importance of philanthropy, environmental conservation and erasing political division in our country. Being able to bring this story to Connecticut audiences is such an honor and an incredibly rewarding opportunity every night.

"I'm So Happy Casey's Choreography is Recognized and Celebrated."

Mo Brady

by Becca Petersen

 Becca Petersen

Becca Petersen

Mean Girls has been such a rewarding experience. I am so grateful to be in a position where all of my skills are being used and appreciated. At Mean Girls I swing the female ensemble, understudy Regina George and Cady Heron, and am assistant dance captain. To say it is thrilling would be an understatement! 

I have always looked up to Casey Nicholaw. He is a dancer and began his career performing in the ensemble. As I have worked with him on multiple contracts, I have observed how strongly his performing experience is reflected in his movement and staging. He personally understands the effectiveness of the ensemble.

Mean Girls would not be possible without the students of North Shore High! The Plastics are nothing without their followers. Casey uses pedestrian movement to create a realistic high school and then seamlessly morphs into intense choreography. This is brilliantly executed in the number “Apex Predator.” The ensemble shows all emotions while observing The Plastics at the mall, turning into animals in Africa, back to teenagers, and then dancing with force to make a smooth transition. The dancers are multitalented and can do everything!

The dancers in the ensemble are first and foremost actors. They each have a name and specific purpose. I believe that is why Casey has had so much success with this company. Everyone onstage is bringing honesty and creativity to their full-of-life characters. The dancers aren’t afraid of making choices. We are all on the same page working toward the same goal: entertaining while teaching/reminding everyone to treat people with dignity. I am so happy Casey’s choreography is being recognized and celebrated.

I have now been in the show a few times and have experienced the true joy it feels to dance Casey’s choreography on a Broadway stage. His movement and staging has intention and distinct purpose. We are the storytellers. When I am not onstage, I feel extremely lucky that I get to see my friends in a hit Broadway show every night!!

 Barrett Wilbert Weed (Janis) and the cast of  Mean Girls  (photo by Joan Marcus)

Barrett Wilbert Weed (Janis) and the cast of Mean Girls (photo by Joan Marcus)