Anastasia ensemblist Kevin Munhall shares his admiration - and a few pre-show rituals from - his Allegiance castmate and one of Broadway's greatest ensemblists, Scott Wise.
When asked to reflect on Scott Wise, three things immediately come to mind (well, four if you count handstands), but surprisingly none of them have anything to do with his immense talent, his Tony Nominations, or even his Tony win (I mean honestly, how many people have won a Gypsy Robe AND a Tony???) Yes the man is a dancing, singing, acting, tumbling ball of talent and skill, but what left the biggest impression on me during our time working together in the ensemble of Allegiance is who Scott is as a human—the magnetic qualities that enliven his work and make it impossible not to watch him onstage, or want to work with him backstage. What makes Scott so special and why I think he’s accomplished so much over the last 30 years is his humility, work ethic, and radiating joy for performing and it’s because of these things that I believe Scott is the epitome of the ensemblist spirit.
If it weren’t for Scott’s humility, I probably never would have had the opportunity to work with him. A year after winning the Tony for Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, Scott was in a predicament much like Cassie in A Chorus Line—he wasn’t a star, yet he had clearly moved on from the ensemble. A year later he found himself in a dry spell without any compelling principle offers coming his way and nobody thinking about him for ensemble work anymore. Instead of being stubborn and resenting the situation, Scott made a call to the casting director of the revival of Guys and Dolls asking for a job in the ensemble. In a 1992 New York Times article about his decision Scott said,
This kind of humility is absolutely essential to maintaining a career as an ensemblist. Of course you need the talent to be able to step into the spotlight when the opportunity arises, but you also need the humility to be willing to return to the ensemble and do the grunt work when your shining moment is over.
Speaking of work, Scott is the first one there. Always. While the rest of us struggled to make it to half-hour on time from Astoria and Washington Heights, Scott never failed to beat us there from two-and-a-half hours away in Connecticut. Let me break that down for you: Scott was running a dance studio with his wife (the dynamite performer Elizabeth Parkinson), teaching dance classes, raising a kid, and commuting almost five hours a day and yet he never let any of it keep him from showing up early, warming up fully, and giving the best performance he could each and every night. That kind of work ethic is the epitome of the ensemblist spirit, but I don’t think Scott would even let you call it work ethic—he simply loves performing.
And that really is the best thing about Scott—thirteen Broadway shows later, he still absolutely loves what he does and that joy infects everyone around him. Scott couldn’t be further from the jaded chorus boy who focuses solely on the drama and the difficulty of performing eight shows a week, instead he lifts everyone else up with his enthusiasm for the work we are so privileged to get to do every day.
A great example of this is his warm-up. Scott does handstands before each show. Countless handstands. Walking handstands, bendy handstands, straight handstands, one-handed handstands, pullback handstands (you know…when you casually use your wedding ring to make tap sounds and do pullbacks on your hands), pretty much anything you could think of a person doing upside down, he’ll do it for you. “I’d much rather tumble than dance at this point,” said nobody ever...except for 57-year-old Scott Wise. And because he was so enthusiastic about handstands everyday, we all decided we should learn how to do them. Before each show Scott would hold court onstage and guide anyone interested into a handstand. He’d sometimes have up to six of us onstage all doing our best to keep up with him. I’d never been upside down before in my life, but after meeting Scott, I’ve now learned how and keep it as part of my pre-show ritual. Now I wouldn’t dream of doing a show without going upside down once or twice beforehand (something my Anastasia cast can definitely attest to).
And that’s just how infectious Scott’s joy is—he leaves you better than you were before and makes you excited to go to work and keep improving. I consider myself extremely lucky to have worked with the ultimate ensemblist—someone who inspired me to keep playing, to have fun, and to continue growing as an artist.