by Mo Brady
Once a dancer, always a dancer. Even when that dancer goes on to great success in a variety of other capacities. Few embody this idiom as succinctly as the multi-talented Michael Berresse.
Michael Berresse’s illustrious Broadway performance career has spanned almost four decades with ten shows on the Main Stem to his credit. He was last seen performing on the Rialto in 2008, spending most of the last ten years helming shows from the other side of the director’s table. However, this season, Berresse returns to the New York stage after a ten-year hiatus in Broadway’s newest spectacular, The Cher Show.
In the new musical, Berresse plays three of the iconic diva’s most influential collaborators, including designer Bob Mackie. He created most of her iconic looks, from her costumes on The Sonny and Cher Show to the infamous dress she wore when she won her Oscar Award for Moonstruck.
Berresse brings a impish joy to his performance as Mackie, in part because of his admiration for the man himself. “He has given the world such color and life,” Berresse notes. This admiration for the real-life Mackie is no more apparent than when he wows audiences in the show’s second act showstopper “The Beat Goes On.”
The Cher Show utilizes one of her early hit duets with Sonny Bono, “The Beat Goes On,” as a montage chronicling Cher’s film career leading up to her Oscar win. Berresse as Mackie, along with ensemblist Taurean Everett as Mackie’s assistant, flank Babe (played by Micaela Diamond) throughout the number.
“The Beat Goes On” is arguably the most traditional musical theatre section of the show, in part because of its Jack Cole-inspired choreography. Staging Broadway musicals from 1934 to 1972, Cole is credited as the father of modern theatrical jazz dance. His incorporation of East Asian-style movement into American dance vocabulary influenced many of the dancers he worked with, including future choreographers Jerome Robbins, Bob Fosse and Alvin Ailey.
As the trio performs these contained Cole-inspired movements, Berresse brings a grounded, smooth energy to them that is almost magical. He endows the shoulder rolls and head nods with a specificity that combines both weight and ease, all topped with Mackie’s signature glee. “In the number, I get to dance,” Berresse reveals. “That always brings out a very deep, joyful part of me.”
One of the reasons Berresse brings such expertise to the number is his experience with this vocabulary of movement. His Broadway dance career has included performing in the style of Robbins (Fiddler on the Roof) and Fosse (Chicago). While those experiences influenced his approach to the number’s staging, Berresse says the closest he has come to performing this style of choreography was in Rob Marshall’s “Who’s Got The Pain?” in the 1994 Damn Yankees revival.
What Berresse brings to “The Beat Goes On” is more than just choreographic expertise. In this sequence, we witness his aptitude for imbuing movement with meaning. “All movement is dance if you think like a dancer,” Berresse believes. “The way you hold a cigarette, drink your coffee or brush the hair out of someone’s eyes tells a unique and very informative story about a character.”
Berresse’s career influenced not only his role, but the construction of The Cher Show as well. When “The Beat Goes On” sequence was being created before the show’s out-of-town tryout in Chicago, Berresse‘s experience was a contributing factor to how the show was written. “(Choreographer) Christopher Gattelli and (Book Writer) Rick Elice both knew me first as a dancer,” remembers Berresse. “When I was cast, I think they always had some dancing Mackie moment in their back pocket.”
“Dancing taught me that we communicate first with our being, our hearts, our eyes,” he concludes. “Then our gestures. And finally our words.”