Sitting down with Melanie Moore, currently starring in Fiddler on the Roof as Chava, you could forget that she got her start as the season eight champion of So You Think You Can Dance. Her dressing room backstage at the Broadway Theatre is adorned with photos of family and castmates. She’s as magnetic in person as she is onstage. The rising Broadway star has an effervescent energy that fills the room. It’s not always easy to make a transition from the dance world to Broadway, but now in her second Main Stem show, Moore proves she’s more than your average reality show winner.
Growing up, who inspired you to dance?
MM: My sister. She’s three years older than me, so she danced before I did. I used to put on shows at my house, really A+ shows—not at all. When I saw my sister up there in costume, I was like “I need to do this!” I just wanted to be onstage.
Is there a movie or performance that you watched that inspired you to be a performer?
MM: I don’t think so! My mom used to take us to New York every Thanksgiving because it’s around my sister’s birthday, again, always back to [my sister] Megan, and we would see shows when we were here. We would also see shows when we were in Georgia. The Fox Theatre has such wonderful theatre there. My favorite musical is Aida. I saw it when I was really young and I just remember being so moved when they got locked in the tomb together that I was like, “This can’t be ending like this!” I just remember loving it so much! I love the music aspect with dance. Music is really capable of moving me a lot and changing my moods so it really is a great way to get all my emotions out.
The opening number to Fiddler is "Tradition." Do you have any fun traditions in your life?
MM: We were not the most traditional family. I guess coming to New York was kind of a tradition. [Before I go on stage] I always say a little prayer. Danny Burstein is amazing and said something once when talking with me about acting: "Melanie, all you really need to know is how to listen and respond as openly and honestly as possible in the moment. And that's all you really need to know." That phrase resonated so deeply with me. So with that phrase in mind I kind of center myself and say, “Please help me be safe and healthy and respond as openly and honestly as possible in the moment,” and hope that I can thank the stage spirit gods, and anybody else that wants to help out with the performance. Also, Jenny [Rose Baker] who plays my younger sister, who is actually older than me, which is hilarious, and Samantha [Massell, who plays Hodel], we all start on the trap below the stage on the same side so we always stack our hands up and do a little shake off situation. So that has now become a tradition.
You have some heartfelt, dramatic scenes in Fiddler. Where did you get your acting training from, other than the School of Danny Burstein?
MM: I have never taken an acting class, which is crazy! I did the dance lab [of Fiddler because] I wanted to work with [choreographer] Hofesh [Shechter], because he is unbelievable. That’s how I ended up here. They vocalized us at the dance lab and [director] Bart [Sher] and [music director] Ted [Sperling] were kind of like, “Would you be interested in singing and reading for Chava?” and I said, “YES! When? I’ll do it!” And they took a large risk with me because I’ve never taken an acting class before. I’ve had some amazing teachers in dance that have inspired me to be an actress through dance but never with my words, and Bart and his wife Kristin [Flanders] were amazing. I have so many different training aspects in my body in terms of acting, so it’s like you can sing-act, you can dance-act, or you have to be a human and act!
This is all new and felt very strange. I had some privates with Kristin, and then Bart would bring me to edge of the scene so I was basically sobbing and yelling at Danny and then he would bring me all the way back so I was very calm and appealing to his sensible side, and then we kind of ended up somewhere in between. We had the full spectrum. I guess I just got the acting lessons on the job.
What’s it like to be playing such an iconic role in Fiddler?
MM: I think for all of us this show is a difficult one for us to conquer. So many people have experiences with Fiddler, specifically. It’s beloved by so many people and so we all want to pay homage to what people love about Fiddler, but we also want to make it our own, and we wanted to make it extremely honest and not like that gimmicky, funny Fiddler that a lot of people love. We wanted to really layer in a lot of the realities of the situation.
What's your favorite number (or scene) to perform in Fiddler?
MM: I have a favorite number, but I’m not in it! [It’s] “L'chaim” or “To Life”. I watch it every day from the wings. I’m their biggest fan! Bart was so sweet, he allowed me to be in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with them because I knew a lot of the choreography from the dance lab. When I got transitioned over to Chava, I didn’t have to do a lot of dancing in the show, so he was like, “Mel, you’re not really dancing in the show, do you want to be in the parade?” and I was like, “YES!” So I finally got to live out my “L’chaim” dreams on the parade.
How has the transition from the dance world to Broadway been?
MM: It was something that happened kind of naturally. I was working in L.A., and I was grateful for that, but I wasn’t really happy. I just finished doing Still Motion, Stacey Tookey’s dance company, and I decided: I have a full year, and I don’t know if I’m going to be an all-star this year [on So You Think You Can Dance], so I’m just going to move! I moved back to New York and worked with my agents and said, “You know, I don’t want to go out to any auditions, I just want to sing for a year.” For a year I worked with my amazing voice teacher and took lessons twice a week to try and retain that muscle and get it back. Then the first audition I went out for was Finding Neverland.
Wow, so you booked your first audition?
MM: Yeah, and it was a perfect fit! I had never worked with Mia [Michaels, Neverland’s choreographer] on So You Think You Can Dance, and it was wonderful that I got to work with her. It was something that was very new for both of us! She had never done a Broadway show and I thought she did such a beautiful job. I didn’t know she was going to be there. I walked into the room for an undisclosed choreographer for an undisclosed Diane Paulus project and [there was] Mia!
What was your audition song for Finding Neverland and for Fiddler?
MM: Oh my god, it’s amazing! So, for Neverland they asked for a British pop rock song, so how could you not go with the Spice Girls? I sang, “Stop.” I ended it, “Stop right now!” [with a Spice Girls pop star move.] Diane and [music director] Mary-Mitchell [Campbell] were all like, “Ok, I guess she’s committed.” It was hysterical. I don’t know, I’m crazy! And it turns out that Elliot Kennedy [who wrote music for Finding Neverland] actually wrote songs for the Spice Girls. For Fiddler, I sang “Stranger to the Rain” from Children of Eden, which literally has nothing to do with Fiddler on the Roof, nor is it a traditional song. It just felt like it was very in the character of the three sisters, so I just went for it.
Fiddler also talks a lot about family values - your Mom and Grandma were very memorable on SYTYCD. Are you close with your family?
MM: I am! My Mom is just my hero. She is the biggest rock star in the whole world. I look up to her in so many ways. My Grandma is so wonderful; she actually passed away earlier this summer. She had been sick, and she was ready. It was when I was doing Finding Neverland and that’s all about losing somebody close to you. It was actually my last week in Finding Neverland so I was already an emotional mess. It was such a cathartic moment for me to be throwing glitter and giggling [as Peter Pan]. It was the perfect time for that.
What was a harder audition? SYTYCD or Broadway?
MM: Oh, they’re very different. I’ve watched my audition for So You Think You Can Dance a couple times and it’s so difficult to watch! They screen you a couple times, and they had talked to me a lot about my dad. I’m a crier, so I was already on the verge of crying. They literally make you the most uncomfortable possible before you get in front of those judges. It’s a wonder I didn’t have a nervous breakdown! I was terrified. And then there was a camera there, and I was newly 19, too. Then there’s Broadway where you go into a dance call and you’re like, “Great, I feel awesome,” and then they’re like, “Pull a song from your book we want you to sing.” The first time they asked me to sing I literally started doing pliés because I got so nervous. I was like, “What am I doing? This isn’t going to help me sing!”
Do you have a dream Broadway role?
MM: I do! I want to be Millie [in Thoroughly Modern Millie] because she dances and sings and acts and she’s the best! Sutton Foster is also the best. Or, also, this is a new show and I don’t know if I would love to do it yet but Anna in Frozen. I could just see myself singing “Do you wanna build a snowman?” and just being an idiot because her personality is really similar to mine. Or, I’ve had a lot of people tell me that I’m a lot like Joy from Inside Out, so if they ever made that into a musical!