By Jada Butler
When attending a Broadway production, most audience members recall the stunning costumes, the impressive vocal range of the chorus and the Tony Award-winning acting in each performance. One of the most challenging and essential parts of musical theatre, however, comes from the choreographed dance numbers. Members of the Post Theatre Company will pay homage to the many choreographers who have had their work grace dozens of Broadway stages by putting on a dance cabaret recreating some of the most iconic dance numbers in Broadway history. The dance cabaret, Once More from the Top: A Tribute to Broadway Dance Legends, will feature seven famous pieces of choreography from shows including “Chorus Line,” “Oklahoma!,” ”West Side Story,” “Hamilton” and more.
The cabaret is directed by Rachel Bertone, a new professor in musical theatre program who began in September 2019. Bertone, who taught musical theatre dance history for 10 years, came up with the idea for the cabaret with theatre professor David Hugo. “We will celebrate a few [choreographers] who have revolutionized the purpose of dance within the medium of musical theatre, and how their legacies continue to inspire the next generation,” she said.
The seven choreographers from past and present Broadway shows featured in the cabaret include: Agnes de Mille (“Oklahoma!”), Jerome Robbins (“West Side Story”), Bob Fosse (“Chicago”), Michael Bennett (“Chorus Line”), George Faison (“The Wiz”), Susan Stroman (“The Producers”) and Andy Blankenbuehler (“Hamilton”). There will be dozens of performances and videos of the choreographers explaining their styles. “The show is a very special thing and hopefully it will be [an] entertaining and educational night for the students and audience,” Bertone said.
Twenty-one musical theatre students are involved in recreating the original choreography. Sarah Franklin, a senior musical theatre major, will perform “Music and Mirror” from “Chorus Line,” as a solo piece, among other numbers. “Chorus Line is all about the fight and drive that comes with the musical theatre world, and embodying that is difficult but incredibly rewarding,” Franklin said. The choreography is physically demanding, and did not come easily. “I cried a lot in the early stages of this process, but through the tears came more of a drive to push my body to its max,” she said.
This is the first time PTC is producing a dance-heavy production, and for many students, this is the first time they have had to exert this much physical endurance and stamina in their performances. Sophomore musical theatre major, Ava Paul, is involved in several acts, including “Brigadoon,” “The Wiz,” “West Side Story” and others. “All of it is very challenging in their own ways,” Paul said. “Some are more athletic, some technical, or demand big energy.”
“It is absolutely the most challenging and physically taxing choreography I have ever worked on,” said Michael Krebs, a junior musical theatre major who is performing several numbers from “On the Town,” “Hamilton,” “Chorus Line” and “Oklahoma!” The most exciting part, Krebs said, is knowing he is going to be challenged everyday. “This show really demonstrates the dance skill and technique I’ve accumulated over my few years here more than any other production I’ve been involved in. These are skills that are rarely seen on the PTC stage, as we’ve never really emphasized dance all too much,” he said.
Bertone believes the cabaret is a great opportunity for students to be exposed to Broadway theatre dance. “It’s such a big dance show and they are doing some of the hardest choreo in the Broadway repertoire,” she said. The cabaret also showcases the students’ acting and singing skills. “They are seamlessly and cohesively putting all those skill sets together,” Bertone said.
The students at PTC are some of the hardest working actors Bertone has ever worked with. They rehearse for 24 hours (six days) a week for whatever show they are a part of. For the cabaret, that is 24 hours of intense dance training in addition to the regular dance and physical acting classes they take. “I walk by the studio and see them working on something, either from my show or something else, and they are so passionate and hungry to learn,” Bertone said.
The students enjoy working with Bertone too. “I felt so blessed to have her in my life,” Paul said. “I don’t think she realizes how much this process means to all of us. We get to learn pieces that have been up for years that not everyone gets to learn. It’s truly a dream.”
“Rachel Bertone is a rockstar,” Franklin said. “She is intense, but that is because she expects the best from us and she is so incredibly passionate about her work. She wants nothing more than to see us succeed.”
Once More from the Top: a Tribute to Broadway’s Dance Legends will run November 8 to 9 and 14 to 16 at 7:30 p.m., and November 10 and 17 at 3 p.m. on the Little Theater mainstage. General admission is $15, $12 for seniors, and $10 for students. Tickets can be purchased at www.tix55.com/ptc700, or at the Little Theater box office.