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.
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 Story, On the Town, Fiddler on the Roof, Gypsy, The 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.