by Kenny Francoeur
The Chita Rivera Awards, formerly The Fred and Adele Astaire Awards, are an annual tradition honoring excellence in dance and choreography. This year’s ceremony, like the rest, will celebrate some of the most illustrious performers in our business. The five nominees for Outstanding Male dancer this year are all on principal contracts, except one: Kiss Me, Kate ensemble member Rick Faugno.
Some quick research of Faugno reveals his Broadway career started with Will Rogers Jr. at the age of 12 in The Will Rogers Follies, but his journey began long before. As a four-year-old Garden State-er, Faugno’s parents enrolled him in tap classes at a local dance studio. His father, a tap dancer and drummer in a jazz band, was able to share a passion for dance (and percussion through tap shoes) with his son. As is the case with many budding Gene Kelly’s, Faugno was the only boy at a studio where he would eventually be taught by Voigt Kempson, an ensemblist from the original production of Hello, Dolly!.
By the time he “fell into” his first Broadway show, he was studying with all the teachers he could get access to in both New York and New Jersey. The gruff and bravado-ful Phil Black; the fluid and elegant Bob Audy; ballet with the legendary Catherine Kingsley (“what she gave to me still inhabits my body in everything I do”); jazz with icon Gregg Burge. Chet Walker, Bob Tucker, Madame Darvash, Germaine Goodson, Van Porter, Ted Levy. His list of teachers reads like a veritable who’s who of the dance world. Faugno’s impeccable abilities are the culmination, not only of his own experience, but of the years of experience of his master teachers, whom he reveres and emulates.
Growing up, Faugno also learned by observing performers in film and TV, from Baryshnikov (“explosive, passionate, beautiful”) to Sammy Davis Jr. “I wanted to be able to do everything like he did. He was limitless.” But in observing him dance, Jack Cole is an obvious influence as well. Watching Faugno’s carriage while performing is a masterclass in the Jack Cole school of jazz technique.
He credits and praises other ensemblists he’s worked with for keeping him on his toes and inspiring him to always stay at the top of his game. Tyler Hanes (Faugno’s replacement in the Fosse National Tour) for his undeniable talent and work ethic; Matt Loehr for his versatility and persistence over the years they’ve known one another; current colleague Will Burton for his skill, style, and work ethic. Unsurprisingly, for a performer who has proven himself an eternal student, Faugno values a tenacious approach to work and growth, both in his colleagues and himself.
Having worked with innumerable prolific choreographers, he singles out the late Gillian Lynne, with whom he worked on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, as a personal favorite. Her unique and passionate approach allowed her to truly push boundaries. “Her style of dancing really fit my body. It was really grounded. She came from that old school, and so do I.”
But he’d be remiss not to mention the profound impact Warren Carlyle has had on him, Kiss Me, Kate being their second Broadway show together (the first being On the 20th Century). As Faugno ages in the dance world, he credits Carlyle for pushing him in new directions. “[Carlyle] honors old Broadway but puts his own stamp on it and forces you to bring yourself to the material.”
In Kiss Me, Kate, Faugno’s favorite Carlyle choreography is in“Tom, Dick, or Harry” (a number which features Faugno heavily and is the catalyst for his Chita Rivera nomination). “That’s what I was made to do, these types of numbers.” It is demanding but fulfilling. Although he suffers the physical consequences of the number’s demands, the satisfaction and release of performing “Tom, Dick, or Harry” make it all worth it. “It’s like being able to let go. There’s a great sense of freedom, there’s a great sense of joy that comes with the inevitable aches and pains that you get from doing it. Only the most demanding of challenges gives you the greatest of rewards.”
And Faugno works for those rewards. Describing his two-hour physical and vocal warm-up routine to me while simultaneously picking his daughter up from school, it is clear that this man never stops or settles; he is equally there for his family and his art. “It requires that much of me to be able to be prepared to walk on that stage and deliver the goods and deliver Warren’s choreography as he intended it.” Clearly, Faugno demonstrates time and again that he is prepared to deliver.
In regard to his nomination: “It feels great to be nominated. The fact that I’m nominated with two of my colleagues from the show is fantastic…[Sharing] this nomination with people I get to perform with on stage every night is something that happens very, very rarely. We don’t take it for granted.”
When asked about ensembles, he makes it clear they are the glue that holds a show together. “These performers are the catalyst of the show, the synergy. We are always there moving the show forward and making it exciting. [We] make it go to another dimension.”
Listening to Faugno discuss his career with vigor and excitement, it is difficult to imagine him as anyone but his elementary-aged self tap dancing with his dad in the garage or on the kitchen tile, trading steps with each other back and forth. Those of us lucky to hear the passion with which he describes his idols get a glimpse of the spark of inspiration that has grown within him since he saw his first Broadway show at the age of eight: Jim Dale in My and My Girl. “That moment crystallized something for me. I can still remember walking out of the Marriott Marquis theatre that night with my mom and dad and dancing down the street. Dancing down Broadway…”