This is the second half of my recent conversation with author Liza Gennaro, whose fascinating new book is titled: Making Broadway Dance.
If you missed part one you may want to catch up on that episode before listening to this one.
Liza is currently the Dean of Musical Theater at the Manhattan School of Music and she also has had a very active and successful career as a dancer and choreographer. Interestingly, she is closely related to this subject matter of her book because her father was the Tony Award winning choreographer and star dancer, Peter Gennaro. He is profiled in the book as well as in this episode.
By the end of Part 1, we had made it to the late 1940s when Agnes de Mille was dominating the field of Broadway choreography. Between 1943 and 1945, De Mille had four hits in a row – Oklahoma!, One Touch of Venus, Bloomer Girl, and Carousel – and three of them choreographed in her signature “Americana” style. This unprecedented string of successes made her the most powerful choreographer in the commercial theater, and soon led to her becoming the first director-choreographer of the “Golden Age” with Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Allegro.
De Mille’s most significant contribution to the Broadway Musical was breaking the mold of the traditional Broadway chorus girl by insisting on hiring actor/dancers who could fully embody the characters that they were playing.
This new approach to Broadway dance, and this new kind of Broadway dancer, would be adopted by everyone who followed in her footsteps – especially Jerome Robbins – who years later would write, “Agnes broke the conception of what the Broadway dancer could be in the Broadway Musical. What they looked like, what was desired of them, and what their contribution to the show was.”
And, as you will hear, Robbins took that idea and ran with it, just as De Mille’s “Americana” style was starting to lose its luster.
That’s just the beginning Later in the episode Liza and I discuss Michael Kidd, Bob Fosse, Gower Champion, Michael Bennett, Graciela Daniele, Susan Stroman, Kathleen Marshall, Bill T. Jones, Stephen Hoggett, Lorin Latarro, Kelly Devine, Sergio Trujillo, Jerry Mitchell and more!
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