Musical theatre workshops and productions

What makes GREAT Choreography?

I was meeting with a director/choreographer recently and I asked the question – what makes “great” choreography?  We then had a long talk about what each of us valued in choreography and how choreography plays a vital role in musicals today.   As a producer, I look at choreography in the “big picture” mode.

Here are some of the things we discussed.  Great choreography must:

  • Reflect the style/period of the musical. If the show is LES MIS (set in 1832) you really cannot have tap dancing.  Not only does it not fit the period, it also does not fit the style.  But it is difficult to imagine 42nd STREET without tap dancing.
  • Reflect the characters. Dancing in “character” is so important.  We want the audience to follow along with the illusion, to stay engaged.  But, there are some exceptions – dream sequences or fantasy.  The best example of this is in SIDESHOW.  At one point, the co-joined twins dream they are separated and the show has a dance number where each twin gets to perform alone.
  • Be unique. I want to see something that I have never seen before.  I want to see creative movement that makes me smile and gasp.  A great example of this is Susan Stroman’s CRAZY FOR YOU.  When she “creates” the string bass instruments with the suspenders – I was just mesmerized.
  • Have patterns. I do not want to see a whole bunch of actors dancing the same choreography in a line.  I want to see patterns of movement  (and preferably unexpected patterns) and different choreography at the same time.  This is where Michael Bennett shined.  Not only A CHORUS LINE and DREAMGIRLS but BALLROOM as well.
  • Move the plot line forward. I think the choreography is similar to the music, lyrics and words in a musical.  It can tell a story (the dream ballet in OKLAHOMA!) or it can move the action (the train sequence in BULLETS OVER BROADWAY.)

A friend of mine told me that bad choreography is very easy to spot, but that good choreography often gets overlooked.  Mostly, I love it.  I love watching it and I love being in the theatre when it is happening.

What are some of your favorite dance numbers in musicals?

Larry Little

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