by Mo Brady
One can not attend the Broadway musical Escape to Margaritaville without noting its infectious energy. From its audience singalongs to the beach balls cascading over the audience’s heads, the show encourages viewers to lean in to Jimmy Buffet’s signature island vibe.
One of the most successful ways this free-spirited energy is conveyed is through the choreography, created by Tony Award nominated Kelly Devine. A veteran of Broadway’s Come From Away, Rocky and more, her choreography is always effervescent and powerful. Whether she is staging the Russian aristocracy in Doctor Zhivago or Californian groupies in Rock of Ages, she finds a way to give dancers drive and agency through the movement.
This high-octane choreography requires a commitment from dancers to give their all to her staging. Sara Andreas, who plays a Female Tourist and others in Broadway’s Escape to Margaritaville, says, “her choreography for women is fun and sexy without objectifying. There’s a power in the sexiness of her choreography that allows the dancer to have the control.”
Margaritaville’s staging is reminiscent her incredible work on Rock of Ages, which she created for the Broadway, London, Toronto, Las Vegas and Australian productions. Four of Margaritaville’s nine female ensemblists and swings are veterans of various incarnations of Rock of Ages: Tessa Alves, Sara Andreas, Tiffany Adeline Cole and Jennifer Rias.
Sara Andreas, who played Regina in the Las Vegas production of Rock of Ages says, “Kelly is so good at creating steps that are sexy but at the same time empowering and at times hilarious all while still furthering the story. All of that said, it’s also just really fucking fun to dance.”
Jennifer Rias, who was a dance captain for Rock of Ages on Broadway for more than two years, notes, “The women really got to exemplify the word 'fierce' in that show. I've never felt sexier onstage in my life - but that’s how you know it’s Kelly’s choreography."
In both Escape to Margaritaville and Rock of Ages, Devine’s staging finds an expert balance between celebrating women by giving them strength and power. “In the opening number, I play a character who is smitten with the lead, Tully (Paul Alexander Nolan), and has a moment of dancing with him,” says Andreas. “Kelly has choreographed it so I am in charge of the movement, I am pulling him around and if I am doing something to seduce him, it’s because that’s my tactic to get what I want out of him. I am not going to lie, it’s really fun to smack Paul around, and it’s even more fun because Paul is such a great dancer.”
Yet, for all of her exuberant energy, Devine staging doesn’t get in the way of guiding audiences through a story. Her Tony Award nomination for Come From Away was not because of the performers’ technique but their ability to move as an ensemble with intention. Andreas says, “We have one number in Margaritaville that has gone through at least five different incarnations since I’ve been a part of it, all of which were funny and good, but what we finally landed on ended up being what was best to further the show.”
Part of the reason that these women enjoy performing Devine’s choreography is that the feel appreciated by her. Andreas notes, "She’s really good at keeping it light and fun in the room even when the stakes are really high. She’s one of those choreographers that makes sure the people she’s working with are good people. Not good in the sense that they’re skilled (which they are) but good in the kind and caring sense.”
For Rias, making her Broadway debut as the dance captain for Rock of Ages was a daunting prospect. Devine’s compassion and encouragement was integral to her success: “I'll never forget being in my first rehearsal with the cast as their new dance captain. I was so nervous, but Kelly introduced me to the company with confidence and respect. She set me up for success. I truly believe it was a huge reason of why I loved being a dance captain and enjoyed my time in the show so much.”
In both Rock of Ages and Escape to Margaritaville, Devine celebrates her performers and encourages them to share their joy with audiences. “Her movements is the most fun dancing I've done on Broadway,” says Rias. “The choreography is actually impossible to do at anything less than 150% so it pushes you to go for it every night.”