Music Theatre International and Jerry Mitchell, the Tony-winning choreographer and director behind Kinky Boots, Hairspray, Legally Blonde, and The Full Monty, have teamed up to bring original Broadway choreography to regional, community, and educational productions nationwide.
The Original Production (TOP), co-founded by Mitchell and Paul Canaan, is currently available through a special pilot program for productions of Hairspray and Legally Blonde, but the project's end goal is to go beyond these two shows. The long-term plan is to create a resource that will offer choreography for the majority of dance-heavy shows licensed by high schools, community theatres, colleges, stock, amateur, and church groups.
MTI has previously offered guides for re-creating original choreography for productions of shows like West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof, but TOP is bringing a modern spin to choreography preservation. While the guides for West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof were created using Labanotion—a written system used to capture dance steps and staging—TOP offers choreographic instruction through streaming videos with the choreographers themselves explaining and demonstrating their own work.
For each show available through the project, TOP has prepared three to four hours of videos, which break down each production number into separate parts that allow choreographers and performers to track different characters and sections. The videos also cover how to adapt the choreography and staging for productions of different cast sizes.
TOP is just the latest in Mitchell's long history of preserving and re-creating classic choreography. Mitchell assisted Jerome Robbins on his 1989 retrospective Jerome Robbins' Broadway, and he went on to re-create Robbins' choreography in the 2003 Broadway revival of Gypsy as well. He has also worked with the choreography of Michael Bennett, staging "Turkey Lurkey Time" (from Promises, Promises) for the 2003 film Camp and dances from Follies for Paper Mill Playhouse's 1998 revival production.
Jerry Mitchell teaches first verse of "Nicest Kids in Town" from Hairspray below:
For Mitchell, creating TOP was not only about finding a way to preserve choreography using modern technology, but about getting past the shortcomings of written choreography notation in general.
"When working with Jerry Robbins and trying to remount his own works [for Jerome Robbins' Broadway], his advice to me was 'Film everything you create. Keep a record,'" Mitchell shared. "A video is a tool that far surpasses Labanotation, which was created in 1928. Even Jerry himself could not make out the Labanotion to his own 'Flappers Ballet.'"
TOP's videos also allow the original choreographers to go beyond the steps themselves to preseve the "why" of their choreography.
"Dance is never about the steps, but about the story behind each step. Why were they chosen, what did they mean to [the choreographer], and how did [they] want them executed by the dancers? This is what The Original Production is here to do—to collaborate with up-and-coming artists, choreographers, and directors, and share the ideas behind the steps that serve as the foundation for the story," Mitchell added.
In fact, Mitchell and Canaan hope that TOP will exist not only to help with theatre groups facing limited resources and time when presenting dance-heavy shows, but to inspire other choreographers as well. "We're hoping this will inspire people to look at choreography differently as they hear the stories behind the creation from some of Broadway's top choreographers," shared TOP Co-Founder Paul Canaan. "Dance can seem like a lot of steps, but it's up to YOU to bring the movement to life and use those steps to tell the story."
For more information, visit TheOriginalProduction.com.