by Mo Brady
Mounting the first professional production of a musical in nearly 30 years is a feat. Mounting the first production of an iconic, genre-changing musical in nearly 30 years is practically unheard of. Jerome Robbins’ Broadway not only took home the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1989, it gave Tony Awards to Jason Alexander, Debbie Gravitte and Scott Wise. The original cast included Broadway mainstays like Donna Marie Asbury, JoAnn M. Hunter and Joey McKneely among its dozens of ensemblists.
When The Muny in St. Louis decided to produce the show as part of its 100th season in 2018, Associate Producer and Casting Director Megan Larche Dominick took on the monumental task of not simply assembling the cast, but figuring out how many people were needed in the first place.
The original Broadway company of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway featured an astonishing 62 onstage cast members. With contractual delineations between principals, soloists, featured ensemble and ensemble, it was structured much more like a ballet than a typical Broadway musical. Performed as a revue, the show features dance suites from On The Town, Billion Dollar Baby, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, West Side Story, The King and I, Gypsy, Peter Pan, High Button Shoes, Call Me Madam and Fiddler On The Roof.
Having spent seven years as the Associate Producer of The Muny, Larche brings more to the table than simply an expertise in casting. Having spent years on the team at Binder Casting working on the Broadway revivals of A Chorus Line and Grease, she then worked eight years as a producer in New York shepherding shows like Legally Blonde and Bring It On to the Great White Way. In addition to casting The Muny’s productions, she also helps run some of the theatre’s youth programs. Oh, and she teaches at Webster University. When it comes to wearing multiple hats, Larche is a poster child for containing multitudes.
The casting process at The Muny is unique - even legendary - among regional theatres. The theatre’s St. Louis open calls are open to anyone, with up to 500 performers in attendance. Larche will fly choreographers for all of the season’s shows to the theatre, where each is given 90 minutes to run auditioners through the material necessary to make their decisions. During the rest of the day, the choreographers remain in the room and watch performers tackle each others’ movement. “It’s a huge dance day - really fun and very collaborative,” says Larche.
All of that being said, casting Jerome Robbins’ Broadway has proven different for Larche than a typical Muny show. Casting the show is like casting a half-dozen musicals simultaneously; the same performers need to be proficient at the Charleston, mambos, Thai movement and traditional theatre dance. Larche tackled the challenge like any good type-A personality would: she made a spreadsheet. Cross referencing the original Actors’ Equity Association casting breakdown with her own notes from ibdb.com, she decided that a company of 49 actors (scaled down from the original 62) would be the best fit for The Muny’s production.
To supplement the typical St. Louis casting process, Larche visited New York City for a week to audition actors for Robbins as well as the Muny’s six additional 2018 productions. After two days of initial dance calls, callbacks allowed 60 of New York’s finest performers to showcase their skills for Larche, director Cynthia Onrubia and production supervisor Chris Bailey. “It was just one of those magical days” says Larche, “watching these boys leaping through the Ailey Dance Studios to On The Town.”
The Muny’s presentation of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway will be structured similarly to the original Broadway production with a few key differences. Since the theatre presented …Forum last season with the original Robbins choreography licensed for the opening number, they opted to leave that section out of their production. And since they are producing a full production of Gypsy later this summer, they’ve decided not to present that material to their audiences twice in the same summer.
In casting the show, Larche is a large proponent of taking chances on up-and-coming performers. The theatre itself has a history of launching talent, having given legendary theatre actors like Danny Burstein and Beth Leavel their Equity cards. In every show she works on, she likes to encourage the production teams to embrace unproven performers. “It’s fun to take a risk,” says Larche. “It’s seven performance of summer stock. Let’s have some fun!”
Giving chances to unknown actors is a gift when the calibre of performers is high. Today’s musical theatre performers are a different breed than those who originated tracks in Robbins. In the original production, Jerome Robbins handpicked dancer Susan Kikuchi to play the role of “Eliza” in The King and I’s “Small House of Uncle Thomas,” but she spent the rest of the show offstage. For The Muny’s production, Larche is able to find a full company of performers who can be featured in multiple suites. “Everyone is more skilled today - and more versatile,” says Larche. “They can really act, really sing and really dance. And that’s thrilling.”
Jerome Robbins’ Broadway opens The Muny’s historic centennial season June 11 - 17.