Beyond the Chorus Line: Broadway Dancers
At 11 AM, Broadway dancers Eliza Ohman, Lizz Picini, Corey Hummerston, Stephen Carrasco, and Paige Williams hit the stage to talk about life in the ensemble. Throughout the panel, these performers made it clear that while some—inside and outside of the industry—may view the ensemble as a stepping stone or lesser than a principal role, each of them feels it an accomplishment to work in the ensemble of theatre. Of course, to be a working dancer on Broadway, you have to nail the audition. Each dancer also offered audition advice: “tell a story with your movement that shows your point of view”; “don’t aim for perfection”; “the audition is 50 percent your job and 50 percent their job so do your 50 percent”; “choose one skill that you can make your specialty skill or your ‘trick’ and nail it.” Between the five of them, they’d worked with such choreographers as Andy Blankenbuehler, Denis Jones, Christopher Gattelli, Casey Nicholaw, Peter Darling, and Jerry Mitchell. “I would follow Jerry Mitchell off a bridge,” Carrasco declared (in song). Carrasco spoke of Mitchell’s brilliance and his ability to make his audiences feel like they’re dancing along with the actors onstage while sitting in their seats; Ohman broke down the symbolism of one of Blankenbuehler’s iconic movements from “My Shot” in Hamilton. From backstage stories to dissecting the meaning in movement to some hard truths about the business, this panel was a tell-all from the gypsies of the industry.
So You’re Nominated for Your Broadway Debut
To earn a Tony nomination is a milestone accomplishment; the same can be said for making your Broadway debut. On Day One of BroadwayCon, Celia Keenan-Bolger and Lauren Worsham spoke about what it was like to be nominated for their respective Broadway debuts. Keenan-Bolger, who was Tony-nominated in her Broadway debut as Olive Ostrovsky in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, was up against Kelli O’Hara for The Light in the Piazza, a show that Keenan-Bolger did out of town but was not asked to reprise on Broadway. “In my heart Spelling Bee was this amazing thing that I got to be a part of,” she said, “but it always felt a little bit like second banana. I thought I was going to be doing this other thing, then waking up [on nomination day]… I think the first phone call that I got that morning was from Bart Sher, who had directed Light in the Piazza, congratulating me, and I was like, ‘What’s happening?’ If I’m totally honest, it was a complex Tony Award nomination and season to be a part of.” Worsham, who was nominated for her performance as Phoebe D’Ysquith in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, could not believe she got the nomination—literally. “I had—my husband looked up this phrase because I didn’t know it before—Imposter Syndrome, where I kept thinking, ‘This is a mistake. They clearly made a mistake. There’s something wrong.’ It blew my mind. Honestly, it drove me a little crazy, especially the fact that [co-star] Lisa [O’Hare] did just as an amazing job, in my opinion, as Sibella, and did not get nominated. I kept thinking I did not belong here. Lisa belongs here. It’s complicated, y’all.”
Thank You, Five! A Stage Management Panel
We can all appreciate what a challenging and pivotal job the stage manager has—without them, there’d be no show. Panelists Marybeth Abel, Narda Alcorn, Matt DiCarlo, and Christy Ney agreed that stage managing is like muscle memory: It’s about preparation and routine. For each of them, finding comfort in a nightly ritual is essential—like drinking a hot chocolate before every performance of Wicked. Stress levels can run high, and, as Alcorn (The Lion King) told the audience, it’s okay to bow out sometimes. “If the nerves are overwhelming, you can say you don’t feel comfortable calling the show,” she said. “It’s most important to keep the folks onstage safe and let go of ego.” Sometimes, despite everybody’s best efforts, the production can become dangerous. (And one of the best parts of BroadwayCon is hearing the inside scoop on these stories.) When Nancy Opel was unexpectedly flung upside down while being flown across the stage in Honeymoon in Vegas, DiCarlo had to shut down the show seconds before the final curtain. Watch the whole thing on YouTube below.
There was a wealth of experience in the room today with five master fight directors—J David Brimmer, Michael G. Chin, Christian Kelly-Sordelet, Mike Rossmy, and Rick Sordelet—who between them share close to 100 Broadway credits. After half an hour of discussion, the panelists were ready to give the audience what they wanted: some fight direction! Audience members were treated to a lesson in the basics: face slapping, gut punching, hair pulling, and choking. All safely, of course. According to Sordelet, who is currently working with Glenn Close on the upcoming Broadway revival of Sunset Boulevard, the leading lady is a “feather hand,” which means she’s a natural at face slapping.
Cabaret and the Next Generation of Artists
Unsurprisingly, the growth of technology and the advent of YouTube was discussed at length at this panel about cabaret shows. Cabaret artists—like panelists Shoshana Feinstein, Joe Iconis, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Julia Mattison, and Benjamin Rauhala—are no longer performing to the 150 people in the room. These days, their acts are filmed and exposed to hundreds and thousands of people online, sometimes millions. In the case of Johnson, his concert at Joe’s Pub, published on YouTube, resulted in a flurry of audition invitations. Each of the panelists agreed that the online video service has revolutionized the nature of cabaret, making it a much larger platform. The panelists shared insights and anecdotes from some of their favorite cabaret performances—including the time Iconis had to vacate Feinstein’s/54 Below in the middle of his concert because the club was filling up with smoke. “Leading up to the show, I really wanted a haze machine, but we couldn’t fit it into the budget,” explained the composer. “When I saw the smoke, I thought our stage manager had surprised me and bought a hazer.” The panel finished on a heartfelt note, touching on the more intimate and creatively fulfilling side of cabaret. “I think that’s the bravest thing in cabaret—when someone is able to open up as an artist and human being,” commented Rauhala.
The BroadwayCon Opening Ceremony 2017
There were cameos from Tony winners like James Monroe Iglehart and Alice Ripley, and Broadway favorites like Fredi Walker-Browne, Carolee Carmello, and Lesli Margherita hit the stage as part of the original musical that was the BroadwayCon opening ceremony. From original dance numbers to musical theatre jokes, it was an epic kickoff to the full weekend of Broadway love.
READ MORE: THE 5 BEST THINGS ABOUT BROADWAYCON’S OPENING CEREMONY
Chandeliers and Caviar: Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
The cast and creators of Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 joined Michael Paulson from the New York Times just after the opening ceremony. “I can’t spit on you,” Josh Groban joked to the audience in the massive MainStage. “It’s almost disconcerting.” This was the show’s second time at BroadwayCon; Denée Benton appeared last year to announce her casting as Natasha. Everyone agreed that the intimacy of the Broadway staging helps the performances; Lucas Steele says that it forces him to be present every night. And the entire cast enthusiastically showed everyone their favorite pre-shot warmup ritual: singing “bag of dicks” in unison.
20 Years on Pride Rock
Legendary and Tony-winning director Julie Taymor joined Disney Theatrical Group President Thomas Schumacher to reveal the little-known facts about the creation of Disney’s The Lion King on Broadway.
READ MORE: 9 SECRETS DIRECTOR JULIE TAYMOR REVEALED ABOUT THE LION KING
Annie 40-Year Reunion
It’s clear from the way original cast and creatives—Martin Charnin, Charles Strouse, Mary Jane Houdina, Steve Boockvor, Shelley Bruce, and Andrea McArdle—at tonight’s 40-year reunion panel talk, the show truly was special to everyone involved. Houdina, the show’s dance captain, who watched from the house most nights said, “There wasn’t one night that there wasn’t a standing ovation. I always thought it was because the show had such heart.”
Lyricist and director Charnin first came upon the idea for the musical when he bought a coffee table book of “Little Orphan Annie” comics. He told composer Strouse and bookwriter Thomas Meehan of it, to which they replied, “What??!!” and “Ugghh!” respectively. Still, they wrote it, but had a very difficult time raising money for the show. Strouse explained their break finally came when Michael Price, who had turned them down after hearing the pitch/songs only once, called from London and agreed to produce because he and his wife had been walking around Piccadilly singing the songs. Charnin polled the audience asking who had seen Annie and who had been in it, both questions receiving a large response. ““That’s part of the great thrill—the thing that’s so amazing to all of us.” “It’s a right of passage,” agreed McArdle, who was the first child that auditioned and the first hired for the original Goodspeed production. McArdle talked about working with the great Dorothy Loudon, her Miss Hannigan.“She was a master class in every glimpse.” Strouse piped in: “We had a lot of Miss Hannigans, but Dorothy Loudon ACTUALLY hated children. ‘Get them out of my dressing room!’” Strouse said Loudon used to ask him. McArdle admitted that she didn’t help matters with her skateboard and pinball machine in her dressing room right above Loudon’s. The panel also spoke of other famous cast member, Sandy. The dogs for all the Broadway productions have been rescue dogs trained by Bill Berloni. “I have seen any number of odd dogs all over the world. I saw a production in Mexico and the dog came out and it was a chihuahua,” said Charnin. When asked for final special memories, every panelist told a loving story of someone else who had been involved in the show. “It was a class act from the top down,” said Boockvor. “It really was. You don’t always get that.”