Is there still such a thing as a "Broadway gypsy"? A performer who makes a living dancing in one Broadway show or touring production after another? And if so, how do you become one nowadays? In the old days, you studied ballet, tap, and jazz dance—and maybe a little acrobatics—and trotted off to auditions where you'd be asked to perform dance combinations in the musical-theatre style of choreography. And if you performed well, and were peppy and attractive enough as you danced your steps, you had a pretty good chance of getting cast in show after show and building a career dancing in musicals. But today, getting a job in a Broadway show or tour can mean having to be anything from a championship Irish step dancer, a world-class ballerina, or a super tapper, to just the right size to fit into an elaborate Disney costume.
The wide range of choreographic styles represented in the American musical theatre today, combined with the high levels of dance technique required, as well as the singing and acting skills now expected of all Broadway performers, can prove overwhelming to a dancer trying to make a career on Broadway. In an attempt to help dancers sort out what's going on in the world of Broadway dance and develop strategies for building a career in the musical theatre, Back Stage spoke with the choreographers, or those currently in charge of the dancing, for the many Broadway musicals and tours that employ dancers.
We tried to find out what the dance needs are for each individual production and what exactly a dancer must know and do to audition successfully and land a job in each particular show. Armed with this knowledge, it is hoped that dancers can figure out what it takes to establish a career as a Broadway gypsy today.
—Lisa Jo Sagolla
Long Runs—13 Shows
The Phantom of the Opera
Broadway Opening: Jan. 26, 1988. There is one tour out.
Auditions are held as needed.
" 'Phantom of the Opera' requires a classically trained dancer," says the show's associate choreographer, Denny Berry. "The choreography is quite difficult and it's all on pointe for the women. So it's required that they wear pointe shoes when auditioning."
There are two male and six female dancers in "Phantom." At an audition the women are first asked to do movement from the "Degas" scene. "That scene is really about style," explains Berry. "I want to see if you have the ability, through your movements, to give me a sense of period. And it's a good way for me to see if pointe shoes are familiar to your foot. After that I move on to the more complicated, technically oriented choreography." The men are auditioned separately and they must display an advanced level of ballet technique.
While all the dancers need to have a very strong, very pure classical technique and be able to embody the movement style of the show, Berry also looks for "an actual period kind of look. It's a turn-of-the-century sense or feel in your bone structure," she explains. "There are certain people who just look very modern and they wouldn't be right for 'Phantom.' But others have a glow about them, if you will, that can seem like it's from another period."
How a dancer will fit in with the existing ensemble is also an important factor that Berry takes into consideration when casting dancers, because, she points out, "people tend to stay with this show for a long time and the cast really becomes like a close-knit family. So when auditioning dancers, I also try to get a sense of who they are as people, as well as dancers. And also, all the dancers in this show must be able to sing, or at least match pitch."
—Lisa Jo Sagolla
Beauty and the Beast
Broadway Opening: April 18, 1994.
Auditions will be held in April for male tumblers, and on an ongoing basis as needed. Casting director Jay Binder also accepts resumes on an ongoing basis. There is no National Tour out.
"There are very few straight dance spots in 'Beauty and the Beast.' For the most part, all of the ensemble dancers are cast to understudy the principal roles in the show. So acting chops and being able to sing are what it's really about," says the show's choreographer, Matt West. "When I choreographed 'Beauty and the Beast' originally," he explains, "it was quite a big dance show, but when we started to get into the elaborate costumes, I had to really scale down the choreography."
West's choreographic style "is heavily ballet-based," so at auditions he looks first for ballet technique. Male dancers auditioning for the show are asked to perform the Cheese Grater's solo from "Be Our Guest," which includes many ballet movements, and may also be asked to tumble. The women are asked to perform the cancan routine, which has a lot of kicks in it. "Beauty and the Beast" 's associate choreographer, Kate Swan, describes the show's dancing as "good old-fashioned Broadway theatre dance, with a traditional ballet and jazz base—the kind of choreography that dancers find very gratifying to do." She advises dancers interested in auditioning for the show not to be intimidated by the acting and vocal requirements. "We create a very relaxed auditioning environment, and usually when dancers sing for us, they do very well and sometimes even discover they have more high notes than they realized."
West advises dancers to be persistent and not be afraid to go back and audition again and again for the same show. "I've hired dancers for 'Beauty and the Beast' whom I've seen multiple times. Remember, for replacement auditions we're looking for something very specific each time, and even though you might not be right for us then, you may be exactly what we're looking for the next time."
—Lisa Jo Sagolla
Broadway Opening: April 29, 1996.
Next EPAs slated for August. There is one non-Equity tour out.
"I was determined not to make dance that was just a changing of the sets," says Marlies Yearby, "Rent" 's choreographer, recalling the first auditions over eight years ago. "The choreography needed to enhance the story, to show the actors living in the most human way possible.
"We really needed singers who have strong voices, and actors with solid acting ability, and all had to be natural movers. Then I needed some people who can really dance, more than technicians, but performers who take the choreography and live inside it."
Yearby, unlike most musical choreographers, does not choreograph to numbers. The proverbial five-six-seven-eight is not her tool. Coming from the world of modern dance, she prefers to see dancers who use breath as rhythm, to seek human sensibility and an aesthetic at an audition. "I know this can throw a dancer at an audition off," she adds, "but we are dancing from a human place in this show. We must see this at the audition, understanding gesture before we can understand a big dance phrase. My choreography is a series of gestures."
Dancers who come to audition for "Rent" learn material from the show. The "Santa Fe" number is first, a series of gestures about desires and dreams, "envisioning yourself in a life other than homeless," Yearby emphasizes. The "Contact" number follows, signifying touching and intimacy in our society, followed by material from "La Vie Bohème," the spirit. "I ask them to improvise. How will they react to each other? Are they able to be a community? Because that is what 'Rent' is all about. We try to find artists that fit the role balanced with artists that are skilled."
Yearby, like the other choreographers interviewed, looks for something original in the applicant. "When you walk in from the street and can still handle the material dynamically, then we are really interested in you."
Opening date: November 14, 1996.
The next round of auditions will take place in May. However, it's not too early to send a picture and resume to Howard Cherpakov, National Artists Management Co., 165 West 46th St., Suite 1202, New York, NY 10036. There is one National Tour out.
Yes, it's legs, legs, legs—a Fosse show without delicious girls' legs is inconceivable, and "Chicago" is no exception. But dance captain Bernard Dotson brings up another aspect of Fosse technique, one that is taught at the auditions for the Broadway show and the innumerable touring companies. "We give the dancers a visual image, like pretending you are walking in water. How is that movement executed? How do you move the body, isolate each part, get into the obscure positions of Fosse technique when you are in water?" Slow, languid, sensuous—the dancers who want a part in "Chicago" have to show that quality. "At the audition, you are taught choreography from the show," Dotson says. "Then there is a section where you can create within the style, say a couple of counts of eight, and improvise within that fluid Fosse style."
Since "Chicago" has been running for almost eight years, the resumes of prospective dancers are filling the filing cabinets in the casting office. Stopping backstage at the Ambassador Theatre to drop one off for Dotson or Gregory Butler, the dance supervisor, can be a good idea. "As dance captains, we are involved in decision making. We don't have the big cattle calls anymore, but there is a union-required audition. With the many companies on tour, dancers may be taken from existing companies and brought to New York or placed in Europe." Dotson also notes that they always look for fresh faces. "Unfortunately, a 'Chicago' person holds on to his job," Dotson says. "It's an opportunity to be in a long-running, adult, sexy show—and a chance to learn the choreography of one of our greatest choreographers ever."
Choreographer Ann Reinking checks in on the show periodically, but she does trust people like Dotson, Butler, and tour choreographer Gary Chryst to make good decisions.
The Lion King
Broadway Opening: Nov. 13, 1997. There are two tours out.
Auditions are held every six months.
"People sometimes think we are only looking for black dancers for 'The Lion King,' but that's not so. We want dancers of all ethnicities," says Aubrey Lynch II, former associate choreographer and now associate producer of "The Lion King."
Dancers interested in auditioning for the show should have training in classical ballet, modern, and West African and Caribbean ethnic dance. "And they should be able to go from one technique to another seamlessly," says Lynch. "That's what makes a dancer really, really good for this show."
The dancers in "The Lion King" must also "not be afraid to sing" and must possess strong performance skills, what Lynch describes as "the strength, the grit, and the power. This is particularly true for the men," he says, "who should have body types that are in great shape. They are very scantily clothed through much of the show and they need to look like superhumans."
Even though "The Lion King" is a Broadway musical, when casting the dancers Lynch looks primarily for those with concert dance backgrounds, rather than the typical Broadway "gypsy." "Our preference is for dancers who've either performed with a concert dance company or who have trained at a school that is affiliated with a dance company," Lynch explains.
But despite all the ideals that Lynch looks for when casting dancers for "The Lion King," he admits that sometimes a dancer comes along who may not meet the requirements, but has such a special quality that he will be cast anyway. Lynch describes that quality as an ability to "tell a story with one's body. 'The Lion King' is not about dancing pretty," he says, "It's about storytelling. So at the auditions I tell the dancers, 'Take the choreography, make it communicate something, and make me remember you doing it.' "
—Lisa Jo Sagolla
Broadway Opening: March 23, 2000.
Next chorus call and EPAs scheduled for August. Photos and resumes are accepted on an ongoing basis. There is no National Tour out.
The message Tracey Corea delivers is clear. In answer to my question—what do you look for when casting dance replacements for "Aida"?—she underlines acting skills as the specific, definitive test. "In 'Aida,' we must have strong individual performers, as there are only nine dancers in the cast," she explains. "The combinations we give at auditions will lend themselves to bringing that out. We teach material from the show depending on the track we are replacing, then give the setting—perhaps it will be an emotional one like pain, fear, or resignation. Bringing it out at an audition is not easy!"
The ensemble for the show is divided into two main groups, Egyptians and Nubians. An interracial cast is preferable, and the men should be large for the roles of guards or soldiers. "From the get-go we need the dancers to turn us on, to move us with their movement, to impress us with their ability. And we can see it immediately. We are never concerned about messing up combinations, but we do look for a presence. Does this person have the nerve to go where we ask, especially coming in right off the street and performing out of context? Can he open up to a vulnerable place within and become emotionally involved? This is more difficult than, say, kick-ball-change and put-a-smile-on-your-face auditions."
As for replacements in "Aida," Corea stresses that because they usually know in advance what track they need to fill, searching out the right person can be easier than it was originally. "Wayne [Cilento] and I created this show, and we can't expect to find exact substitutes. A large man who is a tenor, a brilliant actor, and who would be right for Aida's father may never show up. But we'll find the next closest thing."
Broadway Opening: April 19, 2001.
Replacement auditions are held as needed. There are two National Tours out.
"In 'The Producers,' the women dancers have to play showgirls, so there is an immediate height cutoff for any female dancer auditioning for this show," says Susan Stroman, the show's director-choreographer. "The women can be no shorter than 5'8". And that's really only because they have to wear those giant headdresses and we have to balance out the girl's body against her headpiece." For the male dancers, there are no specific size requirements, but some of the men in the show need to be able to do acrobatics. So depending on what track a male dancer is being considered for, he may be asked to perform some acrobatic stunts at the dance audition.
All of the dancers in "The Producers," both the men and the women, must be able to tap, so auditions usually begin with a tap-dance combination. After that, the women are given a "walking showgirl" combination. There is one female dance part in the show that has to be able to perform fouette turns to the left and another that has to do a front walkover, so Stroman may ask to see those skills as well.
"The ensemble in 'The Producers' play quite a lot of different roles," Stroman explains, "so the dancers need to be able to deliver lines and to sing. We also ask them to tell a joke," she says, "which allows me to see their sense of humor—and humor is the most important characteristic I look for when casting this show." Stroman also advises dancers to be gracious to one another at auditions. "I can see immediately when someone is considerate of their fellow performers and when they are not," she says. "And that can really make a difference in my choosing to cast one dancer over another."
—Lisa Jo Sagolla
Broadway Opening: May 2, 2001.
Auditions are held every six months. There is one National Tour out.
" '42nd Street' is a huge dance show, and we tend to cast on the younger side for its dancing ensemble," says the show's choreographer, Randy Skinner. "We love to have the fresh kids come in who are young and energetic and have that look of newness about them. And also, our show has quite a few form-fitting costumes, particularly for the women. There are bare midriffs and things like that. So at the audition, the girls have to come in wearing two-piece leotards and they have to dance in heels."
The dancers in "42nd Street" must be able to tap dance extremely well and do what Skinner calls "theatre jazz," as opposed to hip-hop or MTV-style dancing. There is also a lot of partner work in the show, so partnering skills are vital and a ballroom background is helpful. "The tapping in '42nd Street' is pretty extensive," Skinner explains. At the auditions, the women are asked to go through numerous tap combinations, followed by a ballet combination. The men do the same tap combinations, followed by a theatre-dance-style combination. "And then the four dancing leads," says Skinner, "have to go through an even more rigorous dance audition than the ensemble performers, because the principals do some really hard stuff up there."
Although it's not true to the period of the show's storyline, Skinner looks for a wide range of ethnic diversity when casting the dancers in "42nd Street." "That's the one thing in shows today that one must do, unless it is so absolutely against the historical nature of the show. I think everyone would agree today that it's just so nice to see a racially integrated cast," Skinner remarks. "We welcome it, we look for it, and we seek it out."
—Lisa Jo Sagolla
Broadway Opening: Oct. 18, 2001.
Auditions are held on an ongoing basis. There is also a sit-down Las Vegas company, and two National Tours are out.
"Within this show there's quite a lot of ensemble moving, done by the actors," explains Anthony Van Laast, the choreographer of "Mamma Mia!" "There are only three or four real dance roles in the show and they are for men, but of course, all the women must be able to move very well. The show's choreography is really just movement that is true to the style of the play."
"Mamma Mia!" is set on a Greek island and all the dancing is done by the actors. There is no separate dance ensemble and performers are cast primarily based on their singing ability. "However, we do quite rigorous movement auditions," explains Van Laast, "because even though the show's choreography is quite simple, it must be performed in an incredibly precise way, or else the simplicity of it doesn't work." At the auditions, Van Laast gives actual routines from the show rather than any sorts of technical dance combinations.
Van Laast strongly encourages all dancers to learn how to sing. "I see so many good dancers who can't sing and it breaks my heart, because no matter how brilliantly they move, I just can't cast them. Nowadays, dancers must really be able to sing if they wish to work in musical theatre." Van Laast also likes to urge dancers to continue their technical training throughout their professional careers. "So many people get out of college and then don't carry on their training once they get a job. If you want to get to the top," he says, "it is imperative to keep studying." And his final words of advice are: "When you come to my auditions, don't dress in fancy colors. I don't like people who come all 'glammed' up. I'm just looking for the person, without too much fuss around them."
—Lisa Jo Sagolla
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Broadway Opening: April 18, 2002.
Replacement auditions are held on an ongoing basis. There is one National Tour out.
"Everyone taps in this show, but it's not a tap show," explains "Thoroughly Modern Millie" choreographer Rob Ashford. "Every role requires a different degree and level of tapping and there's a real wide range. We have two guys who tap with Millie and have to be extraordinary tappers. And then there are some roles that do only a small amount of very simple tapping. I don't want dancers to feel they shouldn't audition for us just because they don't tap brilliantly."
"Millie" employs 10 dancer-singers and 10 singer-dancers—that is, 10 dancers who sing well and 10 singers who dance well. "And it's the singers who dance well that are much more difficult to cast," says Ashford, "because those singers really dance a lot. They don't just do simple swaying, but they really dance, right alongside the dancers."
When casting dancers for this show, Ashford looks first and foremost for technique. "Because," he says, "we do a lot of things in 'Millie' to try to depict the energy and precarious state of life in New York in 1922. We tried to use some of that imagery in the choreography, so we have a lot of things that are off balance. And the more technique a dancer has, the more he can let go of it and create that off-balance sensibility." Ashford describes the show's choreography as traditional musical-theatre dancing. "We tried to do just enough of the historical dances of the period, like the Charleston, so the audience got the flavor of the times, but then tried to infuse it with the energy of today. I would not tell anyone to go study 1920s dancing to prepare for this audition. My advice would be to go take a ballet or tap class instead."
—Lisa Jo Sagolla
Broadway Opening: Aug. 15, 2002.
Next EPAs slated for July; next chorus call slated for September. There is one National Tour out.
Jerry Mitchell, choreographer for "Hairspray," doesn't hesitate to answer when asked what he looks for in replacing dancers in his hit musical. "Energy," he declares. "You have to have a full tank for this show, the kind of energy a 16-year-old has, and I need to see that at the audition. This doesn't mean only 16-year-olds need apply," Mitchell clarified, "but it does mean you have to show the innocence and exuberance of a high school kid whose dream is to dance on 'The Corny Collins Show.' "
In addition to the energy factor, Mitchell looks for strong singers ("the three Dynamite girls must really sing"), and also individuality, different heights and coloring, because the show is very eclectic. "The girls, however, have to be thin," he stresses, risking a comparison to a ballet master. "Only because Tracy, the lead girl, is fat. Surrounding her with thin girls points that up."
The style of the show is the '60s, which means at the audition the dancers will run through twisting, jerking, sharp choreography from the dance styles of that period. Before coming to the audition, dancers might do well to do some research.
"Often Broadway choreographers will give the same audition at the beginning, to type out the candidates quickly," Mitchell says. "I don't. Each of my shows has a different style. 'Gypsy' has an ensemble feel to it, a vaudeville style. 'Hairspray' does not. Since it is important for me to see the dancer move in the style of the show, that is what I emphasize at the audition."
Mitchell makes a point of being at all the auditions. "If dancers make the effort to come, they are really doing me a favor. How else would I find them? If they show up, the least I can do is spend the day with them."
Broadway Opening: Oct. 24, 2002.
"Tombé, pas de bourrée, glissades, assemblé, tendu to fourth, double pirouette. That tells you just about everything you need to know," Stacy Caddell explains. "I did that combination when I auditioned for Twyla Tharp, over eight years ago, and I use it today when I audition dancers." That French vocabulary is as old as the republic itself, but still remains the standard combination to perform at almost every Broadway audition. "Movin' Out" is no exception.
"A good strong technique, be it ballet or modern, but it has to be strong, is the most important element I look for," Caddell emphasizes. She is the dance supervisor for the "danciest" show currently running on Broadway, and she is a good one to rely on for scouting out talented replacements. Caddell, a former member of the New York City Ballet, has been staging Tharp ballets for over eight years, and knows when she sees it what will fit for Tharp's choreography. "We look for dynamic individuals. You can pick them out—the love of moving when people walk in. It is always evident immediately.
"Alignment, physicality, being interesting, no specificity as to hair color or height. Twyla wanted each dancer to be a character because each dancer has a backstory and a relationship to the other members of the cast. If we are searching for a principal, we tell them the story, give them the lyrics, so they can make physical choices that will lend themselves to constructing their character."
Caddell relies on files and strongly suggests that dancers drop off pictures and resumes with Jay Binder Casting. "We see all of them, and invite everyone to the next call, and we are very nice at auditions and encourage people. We want to promote dance, not be difficult. It is a tough life and a tough show."
Broadway Opening: May 1, 2003.
Auditions have yet to be determined. There is no tour scheduled at this point.
"Gypsy" is not a dance-heavy show for the adult ensemble. The "Toreadorables," the newsboys, and the Baby June and Louise replacements come mostly from agents who specialize in children's roles, though choreographer Jerry Mitchell stressed that candidates came from all over the States, responding to trade-paper ads and online audition notices. However, a strong female ensemble is needed to cover the major roles in the second act—the grown-up Louise, June, and the strippers.
"First, they have to be good actors," Mitchell explains, "with strong projection. They have to sing and dance. Dancing is not the first priority for me. In preparing 'Gypsy,' I went with the girls who could play the parts."
"I am almost always at the calls," Mitchell says, "because no one really knows what appeals to me. I can't define it myself. At a call, the first thing is to scan the group and see if someone takes my attention with that indefinable thing that makes a certain performer stick out. I call it the 'it factor,' no exact words apply, but I can pick 'it' out in the crowd."
For most of his productions, Mitchell wants variety; he's definitely not interested in everybody looking exactly the same. In fact, he prefers the other, unless, as in the six "farm boys," the group has to conform in size and ability. He looks at resumes, talks with casting directors, but ultimately it is the quality of moving onstage that will be the deciding factor.
"One of the first things Jerry [Robbins] taught me is that you have to make movement work for each particular actor. You cannot just say, 'Here's a step, now do it.' "
This applies to casting dancers. "If a dancer appeals to me, then I figure out, will he contribute to the story? It is much more important than executing perfect pirouettes or spectacular jumps."
New This Season—7 Shows
Little Shop of Horrors
Broadway Opening: Oct. 2, 2003.
Next EPAs slated for August. A planned National Tour is currently casting.
Last year at this time, Carla Hargrove was heading down to the unemployment line. This year, she is performing as part of the trio of urchins that threads the story together, appears as a Greek chorus, and does all the real dancing in the hit Broadway musical "Little Shop of Horrors."
"If I have any advice to give about auditioning, it is not to give up. Keep the faith and keep trying," Hargrove says with all earnestness. "In "Shop of Horrors,' there are only three dancers and one understudy that tracks all of us. We are contracted until August 2004 with no outs. Then the cast renews." The tour is presently casting, and Hargrove participates with the producers at auditions, offering her opinions. She also teaches the tracks to new swings who will be hired for vacations.
"It might be a good idea for applicants to study the breakdowns of the characters we play," Hargrove suggests. "One is sassy, one is flirty, one is tough—each has her own nuances—and all this helpful information is available in Howard Ashman's published script, which is in the library. Reading it first is really helpful. The urchins are involved in almost all the action, commenting, observing, and singing. We are the know-it-alls, and remember, we are the only ones not dead at the end. In fact, we change character completely and become three divas."
Hargrove's advice is to come to the audition really relaxed and have a good time. Then your personality, a big deciding feature, will show through. "You just never know if you are right for the role, so you have to just do your best."
The Boy From Oz
Broadway Opening: Oct. 16, 2003.
Chorus call for dancers who sing on Thurs., April 8, and singers who dance on Fri., April 9 (see related casting notice in this issue). There is no National Tour out.
"Get out of the gym and go to ballet class" is the advice "The Boy From Oz" choreographer Joey McKneely hurls at men interested in auditioning for the show. Many male dancers today, McKneely feels, spend too much time working out rather than taking class. "For the women in this show, I look for sex appeal," McKneely says, "and that star-quality energy. But for the men, I need ballet technique." There is one number performed by the male dancers in the show that is extremely difficult technically. "Please put the following statement in boldface in your article," McKneely requests: "Nobody has enough technique these days!" McKneely has no tolerance for dancers who think they can get by just by looking good and doing a couple of steps.
In addition to strong technique, for this show McKneely also needs dancers who can move with a jazz style and do simple 1960s-era steps convincingly. "Sometimes I get dancers who can do all the flashy, technical stuff," he says, "but then I give them a few simple pony steps and it's amazing how uninteresting they become, because they have no real personality as a performer.
"Rhythm is also a very important element in my choreography," says McKneely. "There are a lot of dancers out there who can do the steps, but seem to have no feel for the music and its rhythms." For this show's dancing ensemble, McKneely wants performers who have a youthful quality but aren't real young looking because, he explains, "the show has an adult sensibility to it." Although there are no height requirements for the dancers, McKneely does look for well-proportioned performers who can embody the length and clarity of classical lines. And any dancer cast in "The Boy From Oz" must also be able to sing.
—Lisa Jo Sagolla
Broadway Opening: Oct. 30, 2003.
Next chorus calls and EPAs scheduled for May. A National Tour has been announced to open in Toronto in the spring of 2005.
In the land of Oz, the one newly created for the Broadway stage in "Wicked," choreographer Wayne Cilento wants individuals—all sizes and shapes. If a dancer catches his eye, or if he has worked with a dancer before, said dancer has a good chance of being taken. "Wicked" is one of the few shows currently running that has both singing tracks and dancing tracks. Mark Myars, the dance captain and swing performer, is careful to point out that the dancers have to sing, but their singing does not carry the show. Cilento is more interested in highly energetic, athletic dancers. Material from the show is given. Acting ability figures prominently in the decisions. Since Cilento is a popular Broadway choreographer, he has worked with many dancers and they comprised an invited call. Large union calls were also held. Replacements will be made from required open calls and the list of dancers who auditioned originally.
"In this show, some of the dancers are wired to fly out over the audience, so fear of flying would not work very well," Myars says. "Also fear of heights, because the lead monkey, Chistery, has to scale a high set piece and remain there for a long while." The "Wicked" dancers have to dance and dance hard. Unlike some other shows, this one requires a strong technique, though not necessarily ballet expertise. Myars stresses that a dancer should go to calls whether he thinks he is right for the show or not. "I have never worked for Wayne before, but I have shown up at his auditions, and he did remember me. Though a choreographer may not choose you for one show, it is important to be seen, to make a positive impression, and rely on the choreographer to recall you favorably the next time."
Fame on 42nd Street
Off-Broadway Opening: Nov. 11, 2003.
Pictures and resumes for possible future replacements are accepted by mail at Stuart Howard Associates, 207 West 25th St., Suite 601, New York, NY 10001. There is one non-Equity tour out. Pictures and resumes for the tour may be sent to Dan Shaheen, Production Supervisor, KL Management/Fame New York LLC, 1501 Broadway, #1401, New York, NY 10036.
"Fame" has become famous for its longevity in many forms: TV, movies, and currently as an Off-Broadway show called "Fame on 42nd Street," a dance show about the world-renowned High School of Performing Arts. Danita Salamida has been the dance captain and principal person in charge of auditions for this show since it opened in early November, and knows the difficulties of finding young, perky dancers who can pass for teenagers yet have the experience to carry the physical challenges of an eight-show-a-week schedule. "The turnover rate for the show is high," she says. "It's an Off-Broadway contract, which is a considerably lower salary than an Equity [Broadway] contract, so many of our dancers leave for the Broadway stage. We have many auditions and maintain a list of backups to call when we need fill-ins."
Salamida suggests submitting resumes and headshots to the stage manager, and following the trade notices. Headshots are important, because if the look is right, the person will be called in. "I run the dance audition, and sit in on the singing and acting. Keeping the energy up during the audition is important." Salamida goes right to the show's choreography, especially the "Dancin' on the Sidewalk" number in the second act, for her audition combinations. "It might be helpful for applicants to see the show first. Lars Bethke, the choreographer, has his own style, a grounded jazz technique with modern movement thrown in. Except for Iris, the ballet girl, no ballet combinations are necessary. For the men, partnering skills are the highest priority. Can the men handle the women in difficult lifts? It is a tough show.
"Be prepared to do everything," Salamida stresses. "In fact, some of our cast members have to play instruments. Triple-threat performers are the ones we would really like to see."
Broadway Opening: Nov. 23, 2003.
Auditions for the planned National Tour have not yet been scheduled. Send headshots and resumes to Laura Stanczyk, c/o Jay Binder Casting, 321 West 44th St., Suite 606, New York, NY 10036.
As collaborators, Kathleen Marshall, choreographer of "Wonderful Town," and Vince Pesce have shepherded many hit musicals to Broadway, collaborating on the care and feeding that insure a successful run. Pesce, billed as associate choreographer, is also dance captain and performer in this small-scale revival. "There are only eight dancers (four men, four women) in the show. Each one has to be a topnotch singer-dancer-actor," Pesce explains. "All our dancers must have strong ballet technique for the 'Village Vortex' number and a good grasp on the '30s-'40s style for 'Swing.' Since the orchestra is part of our set, taking up a lot of stage space, the performers are pushed forward out front to be clearly seen, which means we need strong personalities."
At future replacement calls, Marshall and Pesce will run over the character breakdowns, especially for the "Christopher Street" opening number, in which the audience is introduced to the Greenwich Village inhabitants. They will teach some choreography, and one must be prepared to sing with great confidence. All the dancers take on several small speaking roles, so acting skills are extremely important.
For Marshall, authenticity has always been an important element in her vision, and in casting "Wonderful Town," she looked for diversity, a multiracial cast, with one stipulation: Dancers must be small, allowing them to be energetic kids and accentuate the "bigness" of Wreck, a leading character. Casting directors search out replacements for Marshall, but dropping off a resume and photo at the Hirschfeld stage door for Pesce is another way to proceed.
Prepare for the audition as if you were going in for a principal role. Gone are the days of a high kick or a triple turn landing you the job. "Some shows are only about dance, but ours is not. Since we only have seven singers, the dancers must help out in a big way," says Pesce.
Fiddler on the Roof
Broadway Opening: Feb. 26, 2004.
Casting is set; future auditions will be announced in the late summer/early fall. There is no National Tour out.
At the auditions held by director David Leveaux and choreographer Jonathan Butterell, the applicants were told that the important element to remember was the intention behind every movement. Dance captain Tom Titone, who also plays the principal role of Nachum the Beggar, explains that the choreographer wants the movement in "Fiddler" to come from within—the legs connected to the earth and the upper body lifted upward towards God, a God of one's own understanding.
This is not a show where the dancers are chosen for technical expertise, except for the men who play the Russians, who must polish certain difficult steps—what Titone called knee drags, killer movement that is performed in deep plié, shooting the legs out and around the body while it is almost in a sitting position. This combination was given at the audition, as were phrases from the famous "Bottle" dance that Jerome Robbins choreographed for the original. Since the men have most of the dancing in this show, the auditions centered on them, and the show will need replacements as the run continues. The choreography for the women is more in the folk idiom, but they must primarily be strong singers.
"David and Jonathan were very specific about the kind of actor-singer-dancer they wanted to hire," Titone explains. "Even though technique, especially ballet, was not stressed, both men looked for an understanding of working from an inner motivation." Assisting Butterell was an Argentine choreographer, Gustavo Zajac, who helped prepare the folk dances for the audition. The Jerome Robbins choreography was carefully recreated by the choreographers and presented at the auditions. Titone said it took careful thought to assemble this cast, which will be in place for a while, but it is never a bad idea to drop off pictures and resumes to the casting office or backstage at the Minskoff Theatre.
Broadway Opening: Slated for April 29, 2004.
Auditions will be held on an ongoing basis as needed. There is no National Tour out.
"Because the show is set in Bombay, we are looking, preferably, to cast dancers of South Asian descent," says Anthony Van Laast, the co-choreographer (with Farah Khan) of "Bombay Dreams." "Obviously, we realize there isn't a very large population of South Asians who are proficient singers, dancers, and actors yet here in New York, so when auditioning performers, we cast our net quite widely. But an ethnic background is absolutely imperative."
"Bombay Dreams" employs an ensemble of 16 male and female dancers, and although there are no age requirements, Van Laast likes to remind those considering auditioning for the production that "there's a huge amount of dancing in 'Bombay Dreams' and it's a very physical show." The choreography is in the Bollywood style, a form of dancing that Van Laast knows many dancers in the United States may not be familiar with. For that reason, when auditioning dancers, he looks for the kind of good, solid dance technique and training that enables performers to adapt to any style of dance that is presented to them.
Van Laast describes the Bollywood dance style as "a mix of classical Indian dancing, MTV, and a bit of musical theatre dance." At the auditions, Van Laast teaches a few Bollywood routines and claims that he can see right away whether or not a dancer will be able to adapt to the style. "The weight is carried slightly differently," Van Laast explains, "and the head is used in a particular fashion—you know how the Indians move their heads side to side a lot. For some people those isolations are quite difficult and I can spot that immediately." And the dancers in "Bombay Dreams" must also pass a singing audition. "I wasn't allowed to hire anyone," Van Laast says, "who couldn't hold a tune."
—Lisa Jo Sagolla
Coming Next Season—3 Shows
Broadway Opening: Slated for July 22, 2004.
Replacement auditions will be held as needed.
"For 'The Frogs,' the dancers need to be both balletic and aggressive at the same time," says the show's choreographer, Susan Stroman. "I am looking for both elements because the dancers play not only acrobatic frogs, but they also play gods and goddesses. So they need to have an aggressive ballet form to be a frog, as well as a graceful elegance to become those characters from Greek mythology." For the auditions, Stroman gives a big combination—the same one for both men and women—that allows the dancers to travel the length of the room and show off their ballet technique. "But the combination also contains a couple of rhythmic steps," says Stroman, "so I can see if the dancers have a sense of rhythm, and then it has some lyrical steps in it as well, to show me if they can create a sense of elegance. So within one combination, I try to see both sides of the kind of the dancer I am looking for." Stroman also feels that by giving one long combination, she allows the dancers more time on the dance floor, so she can look at them longer. Then she always gives them a chance to do the combination a second time.
"And the other thing I always do at an audition," says Stroman, "is ask them a question. It could be as simple as 'How tall are you?' It just lets me hear them speak and that's important. Because, you see, when you hire an ensemble, there are so many other little parts and understudies that are cast from out of that group. So just by hearing someone answer a simple question, I can learn something about their personality, which may lead to them getting cast in one of those specialty roles."
—Lisa Jo Sagolla
The It Girl
Off-Broadway Opening: Slated for fall 2004.
"The most interesting thing about 'The It Girl" is that it is mostly dance," Robert Bianca says, then quickly adds, "not a show about dancers but about characters. We need seven of them and all must move well. The dancers do not necessarily have to be dance trained. Ballet is not required, but every number will be danced. The production had a brief run about three years ago Off-Broadway, and we hope some of the original cast will return." The Dodger organization has rebuilt Worldwide Plaza and constructed five new theatres; "The It Girl" will open one of them.
Based on the 1927 movie "It," which starred Clara Bow, the show is about the '20s period, silent movies, and Clara Bow, though Bianca underlines that this is not a show about the silent-movie star. "I need actors who can really move. Then I need to make them dance. Triple-threat performers have the best chance, but you never know, perhaps a great actor-singer will come in, and I will discover he can dance, too. How great would that be!"
Bianca strongly suggests that dancers coming in for the audition get some acting classes under their belt. "We will see if you can show us you are connected to the '20s in some way. We'll find it," he muses. He admits that perhaps the way they will run auditions will be a little unorthodox, singing first at a dance audition, "but the dancers have to sing well," he emphasizes. "Learn the Charleston, the black bottom, and fox trot," he advised, "and do some research for the period. There will be lots of theatrical movement to move scenes along, rooted in the style of the '20s, so a feel for the period would be beneficial. Let me stress again: This will be a dance show, even though the singing-acting audition will come first."
La Cage aux Folles
Broadway Opening: Slated for fall 2004.
"We want the audience to sit forward in their seats, lift their binoculars, and say, 'Is that a man or a woman?' " Jerry Mitchell will be casting the new production of "La Cage aux Folles" this month and knows exactly what he hopes to find for the 12 dancers who will play the "Cagelles." "They are all men, but these entertainers in the nightclub must bring to the stage a sense of danger and a real sense of gender illusion." Mitchell wants the audience to fall in love with them. "When George says, 'Open your eyes. You have arrived at La Cage aux Folles,' that implies you will see something you have never seen before," he emphasizes.
Ultimately, the men will be in wigs and heavy makeup, but at the audition Mitchell will want the dancers to make him believe they are women without the trappings, to portray women by exuding a certain physicality. "Again, I need the 'Cagelles' to dance and sing extremely well. I will use some gymnasts, and singers who can perform a cappella. There are some roles for women, but those will be outside the club. We have come a long way since the first 'La Cage' was on Broadway," Mitchell reflects. "We have been exposed to a lot. So this show can be a bit more mysterious and dangerous, and I have to find performers at the audition who can do that without any costuming."
Mitchell accepts resumes from casting directors, but depends mostly on his own judgment at auditions. "I have to take a Polaroid picture at the end of the audition, because they're dripping with sweat and I can't remember what they look like from their resume picture," he says. "I only remember what they look like in sweaty dance clothes."
On Tour Only—5 Shows
The tour began in January of 1995 and there are currently two touring companies.
Auditions are usually granted only after a videotape submission and will probably be held in Philadelphia just after the National Irish Dance Championships in July.
"Dancers who apply for a role in our show must be of championship standard; they must have competed and won Irish dance championships," says Carol Leavy Joyce, the Irish-dance supervisor and assistant director of the "Riverdance" touring productions, "but even if they're world champions, they must come in ready to work as part of a company." Competitively, Irish dancing is typically done as a solo form, but "Riverdance" has broken new ground in Irish dance with its thrilling ensemble dance sequences. Performing in such strict unison can be a challenging new experience for even the best Irish dancers.
"The standard is very high in 'Riverdance.' We don't want people to think for one moment that because we've been on the road for 10 years, the standard has dropped. We really mind the quality of the dancing in our show because that's the key to its phenomenal success." In addition to looking for first-rate dance skills, Joyce prefers dancers who are at least 18 years old and understand the hard work that's involved in touring with such a rigorous dance show.
Dancers interested in auditioning for the production should send a videotape of their dancing to the "Riverdance" office in Dublin. Female dancers should include one hard-shoe and one soft-shoe dance on their videotape. Joyce will review the tape, and if she feels the dancer has potential, she will contact the performer and try to get him or her to travel to a place where the tour is playing. If Joyce herself is unable to join the tour at that location and personally audition the dancer, she will ask one of the dance captains to audition the performer. Dancers are encouraged to consult the "Riverdance" website at www.riverdance.com for more detailed information about videotape submissions and the audition process.
—Lisa Jo Sagolla
Cats (Non-Equity tour)
Tour began on July 10, 2001.
Auditions are held once or twice a year.
"I see so many beautiful dancers who don't have any spark and don't interest me very much," says Richard Stafford, the director-choreographer of the non-Equity touring production of "Cats" (for which he has recreated Gillian Lynne's original choreography). "When casting dancers for 'Cats,' that's a big problem," he explains, "because the show really demands individuals who can act and bring something to the choreography other than just execution of the steps."
"Cats" encompasses all different physical types of dancers. But though diversity is very important in casting, in order to type out people who do not have the requisite dance technique, Stafford typically begins an audition by asking everyone to do a double pirouette or a short ballet combination. "And then I would have them do two combinations from the show to see how the style of the choreography fits them," he says. In order to persuasively interpret Lynne's choreographic style, a performer needs to have a ballet technique and a jazz background as well. "We've not always been successful with strict ballet dancers in this show," Stafford explains, "because they don't understand the modern-jazz feel of the choreography. This show has a very specific vocabulary, and dancers either understand it or they don't, and you can pretty much see that from the get-go."
Stafford feels that in order to audition successfully for musicals today, dancers need to study all forms of dance. "I'm a big advocate of ballet class, but I also feel dancers should take ballroom dance, jazz, and even African dance. Although ballroom dance might not help you get a job in 'Cats,' studying many dance forms enlarges your vocabulary and your ability to pick up different styles in a faster way, which is really what any audition is all about—how quickly you can assimilate that choreographer's style."
—Lisa Jo Sagolla
Original Broadway Run: Sept. 20, 2001 to Jan. 18, 2004.
No auditions are currently scheduled. This is the only National Tour out.
"I always look for sex appeal," choreographer John Carrafa muses, "but in 'Urinetown,' that was definitely not needed." Neither were proficient dancers. Dance choreography is minimal in "Urinetown," which is dependent on a quirky acting sensibility and a willingness to move. "I wanted fine acting ability and an intelligence that comes with having a wider sense of the world than just the theatre," Carrafa explains. "Maybe some humor thrown in, too. I can discover this at auditions, also through an interview. Above all, I need to have the actor trust in me. If I ask him, 'Are you willing to dance?,' he may answer in the affirmative, but if there is a note of resistance, I can detect it. Actor-singers who come to 'Urinetown' auditions must let go, cover their insecurities about how they will look, and feel confident that I will not allow them to look awful. Sometimes an actor will find that difficult." Nonetheless, "Urinetown" worked as a Broadway show, had a long and successful run, won Tony Awards, and has a touring company that has been out for over a year.
Carrafa does not take choreography jobs anymore, making the crossover to directing because, he notes, most shows demand good acting ability and singing voices first. The "Urinetown" tour was cast in New York, went to California, and is traveling across country with the dance captain in charge. They look for a mismatched collection of characters whose performing abilities must be top-drawer. It is a distinct advantage to have seen the show and become familiar with the songs. Considering the material, one must be willing to explore physical expression. "Channeling the physicality of an actor—that's where I live now," Carrafa says, "and that is what I did in 'Urinetown.' "
Jesus Christ Superstar
Tour started Sept. 8, 2003.
Replacement auditions are held as needed.
"The performers in this show are all primarily singers," says Dana Solimando, choreographer of the touring production of "Jesus Christ Superstar," "although the women in the show do dance a bit more than the men do, and the six men who are in the Herod number need to be able to move very well. But really, this is not a very technical dance show."
The choreography in "Jesus Christ Superstar" is not complicated. "There are only three guys who need to be able to do a double pirouette," Solimando says, "and that's about as technical as we get. At the same time, however, there is a lot of movement going on onstage, so the performers we cast need to have a dynamic energy and be able to carry themselves well." Solimando has a difficult time characterizing the show's choreography in terms of conventional dance forms or styles. The choreography has a vital, contemporary energy and "is very modern feeling," she explains.
"When we first cast this show, we were really looking for a range of unique, different looks, especially for the Apostles," says Solimando, "but since we have been holding replacement auditions, our needs are much more specific, because we are looking for someone to take the place of someone whose contributions to the mix have already been established."
Solimando finds the women harder to cast for this show than the men because, she says, "the women must be triple threats and very sexy." There's one jazzy number they do in the show wearing tight, red patent-leather outfits, so Solimando looks for women who are very comfortable with their bodies.
"For this particular show," she explains, "we are really looking more for strength and personality than anything else. Simply put, what we really want are vibrant, dynamic performers."
—Lisa Jo Sagolla
Oliver! (Non-Equity tour)
Tour started Nov. 13, 2003 and will end July 25. Another tour is scheduled for the fall of 2004.
Auditions may be held this summer.
"We don't really look for dancers per se for this show," says Todd Underwood, the resident choreographer for the non-Equity touring production of "Oliver!" (which was choreographed by Jeff Garratt). "We look for performers who are character-driven," Underwood explains, "and have a sense of themselves and a knowledge of what their bodies can do."
"Oliver!" employs two ensembles, one of 17 children aged 10 to 12, and one of adults. "It's not a dance-heavy show for the adults," says Underwood. "Their dancing is all character-based, so pretty much anyone who has danced in a show before can probably handle this choreography."
The children in the show, however, dance quite a bit more. "But even so," explains Underwood, "we're not necessarily looking for kids who've been dancing since the age of four. We're looking for kids who can be kids, and kids who are comfortable with their bodies and movement. We're looking for very organic performers."
The dance audition for the kids in "Oliver!" consists of several combinations from the show. At the audition, Underwood looks to see how grounded the kids are in their movements, how well they can focus, how hard they work, and how quickly they can pick up choreography. "We have only a short time to rehearse and we're always looking for kids who are fast," says Underwood. "We really need a special sort of kid for this show, kids who have a sense of themselves and can stay engaged while they are onstage."
Underwood describes the choreography in "Oliver!" as being primarily about playing, and about having fun. "We're not looking for uniformity, but for a sense of kids playing together," he says. "This can be a wonderful show for kids to be in, because it's a show that really allows kids to do what they enjoy doing."
—Lisa Jo Sagolla