Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dance in Musicals: Part 5—The Concept Musical

The History of Dance in Musicals continues...

Michael Bennett started his Broadway career as a chorus dancer. He delved into choreography with five shows, for which he earned Tony nominations: A Joyful Noise (1966); Henry Sweet Henry (1967); Promises, Promises (1968); Coco (1969) and Company (1970). In 1971, he finally won two Tonys for his choreography and co-direction in Follies (1971), a musical about aging performers.

Working with interviews from Broadway chorus dancers, Bennett created a libretto with Nicolas Dante and James Kirkwood to create the concept musical A Chorus Line (1975). Concept musicals were built around an idea rather than a traditional plot. The concept of this musical was based on a Broadway chorus audition, with a director who asks the dancers to share their stories to be hired. The musical featured ensemble numbers with tight formations, kick lines, mirrors and sparking gold costumes. Bennett used “cinematic staging” or “jump-cutting” in his choreography that shifted the audience’s attention from one figure to another. The musical was a success that appealed to all ages and musical tastes, winning nine Tonys and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama (Kenrick, “Michael Bennett's A Chorus Line”).

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Dance in Musicals: Part 4—Gower Champion

Dance in Musicals: Part 4—Gower Champion

Dance became a minor element in the decreasing number of musicals on film in the 1960s. The few exceptions included the ensemble work by March Breaux and Dee Dee Wood in Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins (1964). The movie blended the plot with songs, dance and animated characters, winning five Academy Awards (Kenrick, “Dance in Screen Musicals”). Onna White, a Broadway choreographer, preserved her stage dances on screen in The Music Man (1962) and later created ensemble work for Oliver (1969).

On stage, Gower Champion became a leading choreographer. Champion, started his dancing career with Jeanne Turner in nightclubs and Broadway revues, where they combined energetic ballroom dancing with show dancing. After serving in World War I, Champion formed a partnership with Marjorie Bell and became popular on stage and in television, appearing in Showboat (1951) together. With his unconventional training in ballroom, he choreographed musical numbers with a fresh look, integrating every prop, set and performer with song and motion. His direction and fast-paced choreography, which emphasized a youthful spirit in Bye Bye Birdie (1960), won him two Tony Awards. He followed this with another hit, Hello Dolly (1964), for which he again won two Tonys. 

Labanotation, a form of dance notation, was used to preserve Champion’s choreography on paper during the staging of Bye Bye Birdie. He ignored a diagnosis of terminal cancer to create his final musical, 42nd Street (1980), which contained intricate tap numbers, and died before the opening performance. The show was his longest running hit and he received a posthumous Tony for his choreography (Kenrick, “Who's Who in Musicals”).

Monday, February 9, 2009

And the Celebrities Are...

Here are the celebrities performing on Dancing With the Stars this season. Celebrities include Jewel, Shawn Johnson, Nancy O'Dell and Lil' Kim among others. The new season starts March 9. 

Friday, February 6, 2009

Dance in Musicals: Part 3—Musicals Head to Hollywood

I'm in the hospital in Florida with my 97-year-old Grandfather. (He should be out of here in the next few days.) While I watch him sleep, I thought I'd add the next post in the Dance in Musicals series.

Part 3: Musicals Head to Hollywood

The 1950s would see more Broadway shows turn into Hollywood musicals. Broadway choreographers received opportunities to recreate their stage dances for the big screen. Such musicals included: Oklahoma, Carousel, The King and I and West Side Story.

Audiences who enjoyed old-fashioned Cinderella-stories were shocked by West Side Story, considered a modern Romeo and Juliet, with juvenile delinquents taking center stage. The plot and song lyrics infuriated some people who felt they reflected poor taste and showed a side of American life considered inappropriate for a musical (Laufe 222). Jerome Robbins proposed the idea for the book, written by Arthur Laurents, and was the show’s choreographer and director. The musical opened in New York in September 1957, with an unhappy ending and little humor. However, even those reviewers who were skeptical about the plot were impressed with Robbins’ choreography. Finger snapping, lurching and leaping were new developments in the theater, which are now common on stage. Robbins expanded upon the athletic capabilities of male dancing first seen in Oklahoma. The choreography propelled the plot forward, some thought more than the score, written by Leonard Bernstein (Laufe 224-226).

In 1964, Robbins was director and choreographer for Fiddler on the Roof, one of his greatest hits. His choreography during the wedding celebration incorporated Jewish cultural traditions, while dancing with wine bottles balancing on their hats. After Fiddler, Robbins concentrated on creating works for the New York City Ballet and other companies (Kenrick, “Who's Who in Musicals”).

Wednesday, February 4, 2009