PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Jerry Mitchell

By Robert Simonson
16 Apr 2008

Jerry Mitchell
Jerry Mitchell
Photo by Mitch Haaseth

For a leading theatre talent, director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell sure is spending a lot of time on television lately.

Mitchell is a host on the currently running Bravo reality show "Step It Up and Dance." And he again played himself on a reality show to select the new lead actress for his Broadway production of Legally Blonde. The series, which has been shot, will air sometime in the future on MTV. The stage will once again claim Mitchell, however, as he has three legit projects in the works, one of which will take him to Las Vegas in the fall. Mitchell spoke to Playbill.com about his various projects.

Playbill.com: You've been doing a lot of television lately.
Jerry Mitchell: I did a lot more when I was a dancer! I danced on the Tony Awards many times and "The Night of 100 Stars."

Playbill.com: But this time you're a star in "Step It Up and Dance."
JM: I'm a mentor. I'm myself on both "Step It Up and Dance" and the MTV reality show for Legally Blonde.

Playbill.com: How has the experience of doing "Step It Up and Dance" been so far?
JM: Fantastic. We've shot eight episodes and we'll do the finale some time in May, I think. We may shoot the finale in Las Vegas, but that's still being decided. They shoot these series in a very short amount of time. We shot between Thanksgiving and Christmas.



Playbill.com: It was your responsibility to introduce all the contestants to various dance styles, is that correct?
JM: The way I got involved was my agency in Los Angeles, they got together and started to work on this with Magical Elves, Inc. and Bravo, and as the series was developed they asked me if I would be involved as a kind of mentor/host to these kids. First of all, I'm a huge fan of "Project Runway" and "Top Chef"—the kind of programs that Magical Elves and Bravo produce. My hope and desire was that this show might give an insight into the demands a professional dancer needs to have if he wants to succeed and work on a Broadway show or on a tour or on "High School Musical." In this business, the more you limit yourself, the more you limit your saleability.

Playbill.com: Does the Legally Blonde MTV reality show have an air date yet?
JM: It does not. The only way I would have agreed to do that show is if I got to pick the winner. I chose the winner of the show, and of all the 50 girls, I chose which ten that would actually move into the house and start competing.

Playbill.com: They cancelled the audience participation in the final episode to make sure nobody would find out who the winner was.
JM: Yes.

Playbill.com: But of course you know who the winner is.
JM: I do.

Playbill.com: Are you happy?
JM: I'm very happy.

Playbill.com: How long is Laura Bell Bundy in Legally Blonde on Broadway?
JM: We don't know that, either. It's sort of a Catch-22. They start airing the show, and when the show ends, the new girl is supposed to take over for Laura. That's being worked out with everybody.

Playbill.com: The current production of Grease! used a reality show to do its casting. Do you think reality shows will play a larger part in creating Broadway shows in the future?
JM: Grease! wasn't similar at all. The show hadn't been created already. People weren't actually auditioning for what was required in the show. Grease! was also nowhere near what we're doing with Legally Blonde because the actual artists weren't being picked by the director-choreographer. I don't believe I will ever do a reality show where someone will actually be auditioning for me or for my product without doing my work or me having the final say. I think reality shows to sell certain shows are a great thing for selling the business side of a Broadway show. I don't think they're necessarily a great thing for every Broadway musical.

Playbill.com: What will your next assignment as director-choreographer be?
JM: I am right now conceiving, choreographing and directing a new burlesque show in Las Vegas that will open around Thanksgiving called Peep Show. There'll be an announcement soon. That's the next big project for me. I'm developing, as director and choreographer, a musical based on "Mad Hot Ballroom," the documentary film. And I'm directing and choreographing a new musical called Going Hollywood, based on Kaufman and Hart's play Once in a Lifetime.. It's by David Zippel, Jonathan Sheffer and Joe Leonardo. We're actually doing a reading of that in a few weeks.

Playbill.com: Are you going to base Peep Show on old burlesque acts?
JM: It's going to be much in the style of my "Broadway Bares" shows. It borrows from old-style burlesque, but is very much a new, fresh idea of burlesque. There will be a live band on stand and live singers and story interwoven in the show from the beginning to the end. We're going to be casting in May. All the cast needs to be is extremely talented dancers and performers. I'll teach them how to do the art of burlesque right.

Playbill.com: How is Catch Me If You Can going? You have a reading recently.
JM: It went spectacular. We'll be doing another reading soon. We continue to work on it. Hopefully, we're planning for the 2009-10 season.