Broadway Dance Center Proudly Presents
The Musical Theater Performance Project
with Artistic Director Joshua Bergasse
Postponed due to SMASH!
MTPP making headlines!
by Tara Sheena• Dance Informa Magzine • September 2011
In its third year, the Broadway Dance Center Musical Theater Performance Project is out to prove that New York City is still the world capital in everything Broadway. In seven days, the participants hone their skills in nineteen dance classes, a mock audition, twenty-three hours of rehearsal, and talkback sessions at two Broadway shows. Most of them currently performing on Broadway or television, the faculty are all veterans of stage and screen. The culminating performance for this jam-packed week took place at the Ailey Citigroup Theater on August 15, 2011.
So who is the brainchild behind this intense program of musical theater mastership? The inimitable Joshua Bergasse. Before I was privileged enough to sit in the audience of this concluding event, I had had three of my fellow musical theater friends tell me that I just HAD to try my hand at Mr. Bergasse’s class at BDC, where he teaches on a weekly basis. In the musical theater community, the small world that it is, word of mouth serves as the highest kudos to any emerging director-choreographer, so I was excited to see Mr. Bergasse’s proven success in the form of this performance.
The bill had an all-star line-up of choreographers, each showcasing a distinct voice and highlighting the versatility that is essential to any aspiring musical theater performer. Pieces by Lorin Latarro, Noah Racey, Rachel Bress, Grady Bowman, Wendy Seyb, Melissa Rae Mahon, and Bill Castellino were presented, with standout works from Ms. Latarro, Mr. Racey, and Ms. Mahon.
Known for her roles in Movin’ Out and A Chorus Line, Lorin Latarro presented ‘Little Me’, a dynamic piece for eighteen women. Donning black leotards, nude legs, and LaDucas, the ladies executed a classic number, complete with top hats, canes, and a couple of high kicks to boot. The call-and-response style of the song was mirrored in the movement, with the nine pairs of women high kicking, pelvic thrusting, and ball-changing while in partnership for the majority of the piece. It is evident Ms. Latarro has found an effective balance between her extensive modern and theater dance backgrounds, with movement that is smartly attuned musically. Her choreography is also able to eat up space with intense immediacy. A clean, sleek, classic jazz piece, Latarro had these women charging through the space and moving with a fluidity that allowed both their sharp technique and dynamic vocals to take center stage.
Noah Racey’s ‘Brother, Can You Spare a Dime’ showcased the most convincing acting of the night. The performers, clad in basic black, began the piece in a line across the stage. One by one, sighs of dejection in great variety emerged and this disgruntlement escalated until a solo vocalist (the highly entertaining Patrick Mars) emerged to explain the story of desperation and longing. Racey’s simplicity was extremely refreshing. In a style of theater that constantly gets pinned for favoring shine over substance, I felt a closeness and sincerity from the performers that was lacking in many of the other works. His uncomplicated choreography of controlled stomping and walking allowed the individuality of the performers to effortlessly emerge. Subtle without being too monotonous, detailed without being too overwhelming, I felt Mr. Racey’s sophisticated ease made for the best work of the evening.
No good musical theater training will ever go without a nod to the master himself: Bob Fosse. In Melissa Rae Mahon’s ‘Juggernaut’, we saw the biggest nod to the legendary dancemaker and the most impressive dancing of the evening. Eighteen ladies clad in their character heels highlighted Mahon’s many Fosse-inspired moments with a sultry gracefulness. Nods to signature ‘Frug’ and moves with a little ‘Lola’ attitude showcased these performers to their best dance ability. On top of that, ‘Juggernaut’ gave me a little boost of hope that Fosse’s signature swanky style will continue to live in the 21st century world of Broadway.
Either way, Bergasse’s influence will continue to reside over today’s musical theater elite. It was announced at the end of the program that he is the Associate Choreographer for "Smash", a new Glee-inspired, Spielberg-produced sitcom premiering on NBC early next year. If you can’t wait until then, catch him at Broadway Dance Center every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 4:00pm and see what the hype is about!
Dance Spirit Magazine
Summer Study Guide: Next Stop: Broadway
By Kathryn Holmes - Dance Spirit Magazine, January 2010
It’s a steamy Friday afternoon in New York and two dozen aspiring triple threats are wandering around a dance studio looking lost, frustrated, and exhausted. No, they didn’t miss the latest audition for Billy Elliot or Wicked—they’re in acting class.
“Think of your favorite musical theater character,” calls out the director and choreographer Stephen Nachamie. “Do they lead from the heart, the head, the fists? Walk like that character. Now, you’re running late in a crowded airport! Who’s around you? Are they helping or getting in your way?”
Meanwhile, across the hall, a series of rise-and-fall “whoa” sounds comes from Marianne Wells’ vocal class. An hour later, both groups come together for tap class with 42nd Street choreographer Randy Skinner, before splitting up again to rehearse song-and-dance numbers for the showcase they’re presenting in three days.
Sound hectic? It is. But for Broadway hopefuls, that’s part of the appeal of the Musical Theater Performance Project (MTPP), a new summer intensive presented by Broadway Dance Center. In the program’s inaugural session last summer, 47 students (ages 15–25) tackled 20 classes and more than 20 hours of rehearsal over six days. And program director Joshua Bergasse—a dancer, choreographer, and BDC faculty member—is aiming even higher for 2010, planning a longer workshop with even more opportunities. His goal: to give participants not only top-notch training but also a glimpse into the life of a working musical theater artist—plus the chance to make some invaluable connections.
Class with the Best
There’s no denying that BDC is an iconic institution. Legions of musical theater performers have passed through its studios in the heart of New York City to learn from renowned faculty. But for MTPP, Bergasse and the BDC team raised the bar even higher, giving students the chance to study, in a small-group setting, with working performers, choreographers, directors, and more. The 2009 roster reads like a Who’s Who of Broadway’s brightest: Andy Blankenbuehler, David Marquez, Paige Davis, James Kinney—the list goes on. Put simply, you’re at MTPP to learn about life as a professional, from professionals.
“The faculty aren’t sugarcoating anything,” says Bergasse. “They demand from our students what they’d demand from a professional cast.” And because the teachers are active in the industry—directing, choreographing, and casting shows—students get to know the people who may be auditioning them down the road, getting more personal attention than they ever would at a cattle call. As Bergasse says, “The students learn about what it’s like to work with these people: How should you behave in rehearsal? How do you eat up information?”
The Complete Package
With its equal focus on dancing, acting, and singing, MTPP is tailored to training well-rounded Broadway performers. “Dancers have to learn how to open their mouths and trust what’s going to come out, to express a feeling in their face without using the rest of their body,” explains Bergasse. “In musical theater, that’s the vocabulary of the storytelling.”
MTPP applicants must submit both a dance video and an audio or video vocal performance, as well as a resumé and letter of recommendation. Those materials function as an audition for the program and for class placement. They also help the faculty design a final performance that allows everyone to shine—an extra perk considering that the showcase is open not just to friends and family but also to agents.
If you’re not the consummate triple threat, MTPP will help you build up your arsenal. “I didn’t grow up singing, and this program has been great for filling that gap,” says Meghan Larabee, a senior at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY. “It’s exciting to realize that you can hit the notes—it’s like the first time you do a double pirouette.” Samuel Sacco, a high school senior from Oceanside, NY, adds that in his experience, every skill you develop enhances the other disciplines. For instance, he says, “acting teaches you how to take risks, which helps with all aspects of performing.”
Even if you’re at the top of your performance game, that’s not all it takes to land a job. To that end MTPP offers practical components, such as panel discussions with Broadway agents. Participants in 2009 also saw West Side Story and Altar Boyz and attended post-show talk-backs with the casts.
“Getting one-on-one career advice from people who are actually working in this industry—it’s knowledge without a price,” says Lauren Westcott, who graduated last year from Florida State University with a degree in theater.
The Next Generation
According to Bergasse, most of the faculty members were once in their students’ shoes—dreaming of a professional career, but unsure how to make it happen. “When I got my first show, I had no idea what to expect. I’d only been in class,” he says. “I moved to New York and started rehearsals with no idea how the process worked! So for our students, it’s about learning the process. They’re in the room with people who do this for a living, who want to pass on what they’ve learned. Not to mention that the students take class with someone and then go see their show that night. How cool is that?”