Choreography Is Not Just the Dances, Says Tony Nominee Jerry Mitchell

Tony Awards   Choreography Is Not Just the Dances, Says Tony Nominee Jerry Mitchell In the Tony Award category of Best Choreography, Jerry Mitchell has some tough competition in 2005: He's up against Jerry Mitchell.
Jerry Mitchell
Jerry Mitchell

The choreographer of Broadway's The Full Monty and Hairspray is also in the same category as Casey Nicholaw (Monty Python's Spamalot) and Wayne Cilento (Sweet Charity) this season.

The two 2005 Broadway works by Mitchell — La Cage aux Folles and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels — have different flavors, despite the shared setting of the French Riviera.

La Cage takes place in and around a notorious drag nightclub where a lusty and exotic "birdcage" dance thrills the crowd — to say nothing of an athletic, thigh-busting can-can.

The caffeinated male dancers scream as they land in leg-splits during the dance, which is wholly original, a product of Mitchell's imagination and not borrowed from the original production (although there was a can-can in the 1983 staging, too).

"I wanted to do a mad can-can," Mitchell said. Over at Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, it's "all about elegance and class and style," with choreographed movement pushing the story forward.

The dance in Dirty Rotten is less overt. What drew Mitchell to it?

"What appealed to me about Dirty Rotten was the chance to collaborate with [songwriter] David [Yazbek] and [director] Jack [O'Brien] and [scenic designer] David Rockwell again," Mitchell said. "In this business, shows open and close but friendships last a lot longer. When you work with people and you are interested in continuing that, sometimes that weighs into the project.

Mitchell, O'Brien and Rockwell worked on Hairspray together, and O'Brien and Yazbek created The Full Monty with Mitchell.

"Jack and I have an unspoken collaboration that's very hard to step away from," Mitchell explained. "Often choreographers are considered second class citizens. [When] you're working with a director who wants to hear everything you have to say — not just about the choreography but the scenes and the songs — it makes the piece more 'one.' Very few choreographers receive that kind of attention from a director. [La Cage director] Jerry Zaks gave me that kind of attention and I had a wonderful time collaborating with him."

Choreographers are dramatists, too, and few like to admit it, Mitchell said.