What was your dance training like growing up?
I started dancing when I was four. My aunt and uncle owned a dance studio in Connecticut so they pulled me in at a very, very young age. So I grew up very heavy in the competition world, that's all we did - tons of competitions. My last three years of high school I went to Interlochen, a performing arts high school that was very strongly routed in ballet. And then, since I'm from Connecticut, I would come to Broadway Dance Center all the time. And then after I graduated high school I moved straight here to New York and just started auditioning and performing for about 5 years and then transitioned over to choreographing and directing.
Knowing that you wanted to pursue musical theater, did you also have voice and acting training growing up?
I started my voice training at my performing arts high school. But back then, I feel you were sort of able to get away with being just a "dancer" in a Broadway show or musicals where now the casts are so small you have to do everything.
What was auditioning like when you first moved to New York City?
Not unlike what it is now. I did two non-equity tours, "Fosse" and "CATS." And then I got my equity card doing the show "We Will Rock You," the Queen musical in Las Vegas. I did a couple regional productions too. My big mentor in New York was Andy Blankenbuehler, so when I told him that I wanted to transition over into choreography he asked me to assist him on "It's A Wonderful Life: the musical" at Papermill Playhouse.
What was it like to choreograph a brand new musical like "It's A Wonderful Life" or "Newsies?" You don't have the influences of previous choreographers such as Fosse's "Sweet Charity."
I'm the associate director for "Newsies," and we did months and months of pre-production where we worked to get everybody on the same page. That's the most important thing - that as a choreographer, you share the same vision as the director. And it extends way beyond just the artistic team - it includes the lighting, set, and costume designers. Everyone needs to be so clear that when we start rehearsals no one is questioning. There's a lot of trust and awareness. I've also worked on projects where directors don't work that way, however. You know, where you're flying by the seat of your pants! - but that can be fun too! But for me, my personal process is a lot of prep, a lot of pre-production, a lot of communication - I do my best work in that atmosphere.
How did you transition into directing?
I kind of go back and forth between choreographing and directing. The day after opening night for "Newsies" I fly down to Kansas City to choreograph a production of "Little Shop of Horrors." And I come back and I'm working as choreographer and director of a tour of "Jekyll and Hyde." So, it's good - I don't think I see myself as only a choreographer or only a director. I also like a blend of the choreography and directing roles together so I am always active and involved. "Jekyll and Hyde" will be interesting for me, though, because it will be more about the acting than about the big dance numbers with turns and high kicks.
You are in the midst of a really exciting time with the opening of "Newsies," your first musical on Broadway. What was the process like of taking a movie that, dare I say, flopped, and turning it into a musical?
Our new book writer is Harvey Fierstein and he was great; It just took somebody with fresh eyes coming in. And the way Disney works is that they had done all these workshops and readings before they had attached a director or choreographer to it. When we came on board, the entire show was written for a turntable...And our director said, "Absolutely not." (Our biggest fear was that these boys with dirt on their faces in 1899, on a turntable, would look too much like "Les Mis"). And it was good to sort of start over a little bit. Once we came in, we had about 9 months before we started auditioning people, so we really had a lot of time to prepare. And then it wasn't until we had our cast that we then developed it further - because everyone in the show has a line, has a character name, there's no ensemble. The cast that we have now have helped further the script. It's been quite a process, two years now - and we're still making little tweaks here and there up until Thursday night's opening.
What's your opinion about having a cast without an ensemble and the idea that you can't just be a dancer on Broadway anymore?
I think it's fantastic. What's great about our director is that he made each actor write out a history of his or her character. And then we all had to sit around and talk about these characters. And I think as a dancer, it's really gratifying to feel like you're not just the fifth dancer from the left in the third line and you have to dance like everybody else. I mean, there are certainly moments in the show where the dancing has to be clean and in unison, but there are other moments where it is more of "what would your character do here?" "how would your character react to this information?" And I think at the end of the day that's what we all want to do - have a voice, a personality, individuality.
How does "Newsies" compare to the other Disney shows that have been/still are on Broadway?
I think it's great - it's fun for people to come in with very little knowledge of the material of "Newsies." What was also a breath of fresh air for us was not having to be worried about "how is that fish going to swim?" or "how is that teapot going to pirouette?" For Disney, I think, it was sort of a relief to have a show that's all humans!
What are your goals for the future as an artist?
Be sure to get your tickets to "Newsies!"