Tony-winning choreographer and director Jerry Mitchell and Broadway dancer Paul Canaan (Kinky Boots, Legally Blonde, La Cage Aux Folles) have teamed up to bring original—and often award-winning—Broadway choreography to regional, community, and educational productions nationwide. The Original Production (TOP) is an online resource that offers step-by-step instructional choreography videos led by the choreographers themselves.
Mitchell and Canaan co-founded TOP in 2017, launching with the Mitchell-choreographed Hairspray and Legally Blonde. In the years since, they've expanded with musicals licensed through Music Theatre International (MTI) and Theatrical Rights Worldwide (TRW), including Annie, The Addams Family, All Shook Up, Guys and Dolls, The Music Man, and Freaky Friday, with Disney's Beauty and the Beast (featuring Matt West's original Broadway choreography) and The Little Mermaid slated to join the catalog soon.
TOP can also be used with kid performers. MTI offers the video suites as an add-on production resource for companies producing Broadway JR editions of Annie, Guys and Dolls, Hairspray, Legally Blonde, and The Music Man, allowing choreographers to adapt original Broadway steps for young dancers. TRW offers TOP videos specially created for select titles in their Young@Part and Younger@Part series, including The Addams Family, All Shook Up, Miss Nelson is Missing, and How I Became a Pirate.
TOP is just the latest in Mitchell's long history of preserving and re-creating classic choreography. Mitchell assisted Jerome Robbins on his 1989 retrospective Jerome Robbins' Broadway, and he went on to re-create Robbins' choreography in the 2003 Broadway revival of Gypsy. He has also worked with the choreography of Michael Bennett, staging "Turkey Lurkey Time" (from Promises, Promises) for the 2003 film Camp and dances from Follies for Paper Mill Playhouse's 1998 revival production.
Jerry Mitchell teaches the first verse of "Nicest Kids in Town" from Hairspray below:
For Mitchell, this project was not only about preserving choreography using modern technology, but also meant to improve the way we notate dance and ensure choreographers are compensated for their work when it's recreated in local productions. Before TOP, choreography was available to license for just a handful of musicals, and usually only in the form of guides written in a choreography and staging–preservation system called Labanotation, which can make authentically re-creating complex dances a challenge.
"When working with Jerry Robbins and trying to remount his own works [for Jerome Robbins' Broadway], his advice to me was 'Film everything you create. Keep a record,'" Mitchell shared. "A video is a tool that far surpasses Labanotation, which was created in 1928. Even Jerry himself could not make out the Labanotion to his own 'Flappers Ballet.'"
Mitchell and Canaan's video-based system offers a modern spin to choreography preservation, allowing dance artists to record how they teach their dances in the rehearsal room. Choreographers can break down their steps at a variety of tempos and cover nuances—the "why" behind their steps—that are difficult to preserve with Labanotation and can even inspire local choreographers to create their own steps.
"Dance is never about the steps, but about the story behind each step. Why were they chosen, what did they mean to [the choreographer], and how did [they] want them executed by the dancers? This is what The Original Production is here to do—to collaborate with up-and-coming artists, choreographers, and directors, and share the ideas behind the steps that serve as the foundation for the story," Mitchell added.
TOP now offers choreography from a large and illustrious slate of Broadway choreographers, including Tony Award winner Sergio Trujillo (The Addams Family, All Shook Up), and Beetlejuice choreographer Connor Gallagher (Miss Nelson is Missing, How I Became a Pirate). The resource has even commissioned new original choreography for shows like The Music Man and Guys and Dolls, both crafted by Helen Hayes Award winner Parker Esse.
As for the dancers behind the choreographers? TOP has an all-star slate for these tutorials, including such Broadway notables as Max Clayton, Charlie Sutton, Eloise Kropp, Nick Kenkel, Skye Mattox, Dontee Kiehn, Andrew Durand, Jessica Lee Patty, Jack Sippel, Jonalyn Saxer, Storm Lever, Brooke Engen, Dani Spieler, Rusty Mowery, Nathan Peck, and Josh Buscher.
Mitchell and Canaan provide theatre groups faced with limited time and resources a helpful solution when presenting dance-heavy shows and inspire emerging choreographers.
"We're hoping this will inspire people to look at choreography differently as they hear the stories behind the creation from some of Broadway's top choreographers," shared Canaan. "Dance can seem like a lot of steps, but it's up to you to bring the movement to life and use those steps to tell the story."
For more information, visit TheOriginalProduction.com.