DIVA TALK: Catching Up With Tony Nominee Brenda Braxton, Star of Paper Mill's Thoroughly Modern Millie

By Andrew Gans
29 Mar 2013

Braxton as Chicago's Velma Kelly
Photo by Joan Marcus

Question: I'm curious about that Dreamgirls production that you mentioned. What role were you going to do?
Braxton: I was going to choreograph. I was recreating the original choreography.

Question: Is that something that you would like to do more of?
Braxton: Definitely. I think Mark is going to look into it again, too, because it's never been done in London, and I think this would be a perfect time. I really just want to do it if it's going to be the original version —with as much original choreography as possible — because it was perfect. It really, really was a perfect show.

Question: What was your experience like working on that production? It's such a landmark show.
Braxton: Oh my God! It was awesome because, for one thing, Broadway had never seen an African-American show of that caliber before. And, working with Michael Bennett and Michael Peters and Bob Avian was just awesome because I was dance captain and assistant to the choreographers, so I got to be in on almost all of the rehearsals. I got to see it from the outside, the inside, upside, downside, everything — went to Boston with it, and then opened in December of 1981, and it was an amazing ride. I learned so much back then.

Question: Does anything stand out about working with Michael Bennett or seeing him work?
Braxton: His way of choreographing — his and Michael Peters, together, way of choreographing I loved because I started out as a dancer. I went to Performing Arts High School for dance. I was a true dancer, and just to see how they worked together and how grounded they were as far as the choreography was concerned was, for me at that age, just fascinating to be able to work with that caliber of director and choreographer. I think it helped shape me to be the kind of performer I am today — no matter what, get the work done, be serious, be good to people, be fair. No matter what you have to do, get the work done.

Question: You were also on this season's premiere of "Smash."
Braxton: Yes! [Laughs.] That was awesome, too, to work with Jennifer Hudson and those dancers. It's so funny—during all of the breaks, the dancers were still dancing, just going, and I sat there thinking, "Oh my God. I so remember being that way." Being in the ensemble and just wanting to dance 24/7, and I just watched them, and some of their abilities just blew my mind. The dancers on that show for that episode—they were just awesome. They were really so good.