Kyle Dean Massey and Ciara Renée Are "On the Right Track" as New Leads in Broadway's Pippin

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05 May 2014

Renée and Massey following their first curtain call
Photo by Monica Simoes

Tell me about working together in the second-act number "On the Right Track." Are either of you experienced in Fosse-style dancing?
CR: No. No!
KDM: I mean, I kind of was. I had a little bit…
CR: He's a better dancer than I am. [Laughs.] It's a work in progress, and I think it might always be, but it's fun! I like it, it's just I've never done Fosse dance, no! [Laughs.]
KDM: And, it's really specific.
CR: Yeah, it was a super crash course in the weirdness of Fosse. I had to pick it up kind of quick.
KDM: From doing Wicked for so many years — [choreographer] Wayne [Cilento] was a Fosse dancer — there's a lot of that referenced in Wicked, so part of that [style] is in me from that, perhaps.
CR: I had coachings with Fosse teachers at Steps [on Broadway] and at BDC [Broadway Dance Center]. I was calling people up for my auditions because I was like, "I don't know what I'm doing."
KDM: She's smart!
CR: I [said], "Tell me what to do!" because it's nuanced. It's a very specific, interesting, hard way to hold your body. If you don't naturally turn your feet inwards, that's hard to do and to keep because you want to turn [them] out — I've done ballet. I want to have turnout, but that's not the style… I had quite a few coachings before my callbacks.
KDM: And, we got to work with [choreographer] Chet Walker quite a bit.
CR: Which is nice.
KDM: We definitely worked on that number more than anything else I would say, don't you think?
CR: But it was really fun, so I was always glad to do it.
KDM: I was, too… There's kind of like "The show before 'Right Track'" and "The show after 'Right Track'." What's after is a real turning point in the show, so that number is really important, which I didn't really realize until we started running.
CR: We're learning!

Having seen this production several times before being put-in, what was the challenge in making the roles "your own" and making your own choices?
CR: Well, we had to watch it every night, so for me that was a little difficult because you unconsciously start to mimic. I vocally was mimicking at the beginning, and I [thought], "No. I just need to do my own voice," but it's helpful to watch them and to see the show and to see how everything fits together…
KDM: I think every single show that we have done since our opening, there's a little [sense of], "This is how I do this." There are little parts of the show that I'm still discovering how I do it because, like I was saying, you're expected to kind of fit into the show. There's definitely artistic license there, but when you're a replacement, your main objective is to get into the show and keep it running, so as we get more and more of our first performances [completed], we're both finding our own things.
CR: Yeah, it's just going to be a discovering process, continually.
KDM: I changed the key in one of the songs. There are little things that we figured out in rehearsals… "Well, that key was good for Matthew [James Thomas], but that's not a good key for me" — things like that.

Ciara Renée in Pippin
photo by Joan Marcus

When did each of you get bit by the theatre bug?
CR: I got bit really late — like junior-year-of-high-school late, and I was like, "Oh! Okay… I guess I want to do this!" [Laughs.] I didn't really know about music theatre colleges, I just knew NYU [New York University] was like a "thing," so I auditioned there and a couple of other places that I wasn't really interested in, and then I auditioned at BW [Baldwin Wallace University], and I kind of fell in love with the place, even though it wasn't really where [I wanted to be]. I wanted to be in New York. I dreamed about being in New York forever, but I went to BW, and I really think it was the right choice for me. At 18, I was not ready to be here! [Laughs.] And, I didn't know enough about the business, really, to be here, so it was good to have those four years to really buckle down and study and get immersed in this culture and this business because I just didn't know it was even a job until high school.
KDM: I was the same way — 100 percent.
CR: Broadway was not an idea. For most of my life, I thought I was going to be a recording artist, so I had been singing and actually working on a CD with a producer during high school, and [when] I did the high school musical, I just quit it. I said, "I don't want to do the CD anymore. I want to do musical theatre."

What was the high school musical?
CR: Smokey Joe's Café… I did a mixed track I think, but it was mostly [the songs performed by] B.J. Crosby.
KDM: "Fools Fall in Love" ... Nice! That's fun!
CR: Oh my God… It was cute. [Laughs.]
KDM: I started taking dance class. I took ballet and tap class. Maybe when I was five I started… My older sister was in dance classes, so I went and saw The Nutcracker in Arkansas, where I grew up, and there were boys in The Nutcracker, and I thought, "Oh. I want to do that," so my parents signed me up, and I did that until I realized it was not cool for boys to dance, and then I quit doing that. I think I was probably 12 — something like that. I was in the choir in junior high — that was the cool thing to do — [and] I took piano lessons. I did my first musical when I was 16, my sophomore year of high school, Shenandoah, and I had a speaking line! But, yeah, I grew up in Arkansas. There weren't actors there. That wasn't something that you "grew up to be." It wasn't until Matt Cavenaugh, who's another Broadway performer — we grew up in the same town, I think he's like three years older than me… When he graduated, he was going to Ithaca to get a degree in musical theatre, and I thought, "That's a thing? People do that?" It suddenly legitimized the whole thing, and by the end of my junior year, I said, "Okay, that's what I want to do." I got a BFA in musical theatre, but I went to a school that you did not have to audition to get into the program — Missouri State, as it's called now — I did sing "Corner of the Sky" for the scholarship audition, [but] I didn't get that either! [Laughs.]

( staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)

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