Broadway-aimed 'Gotta Dance' mixes hip-hop with show biz veterans
Like so many new musicals nowadays, "Gotta Dance" can trace its roots to a movie. But instead of a fictional blockbuster, the musical takes its inspiration from an acclaimed 2008 film documentary about the creation of the first senior citizen hip-hop dance troupe that performed at games for the New Jersey (now Brooklyn) Nets basketball team.
Local audiences can see how well "Gotta Dance" transfers to the stage when it receives its world premiere this month at Chicago's Bank of America Theatre. One person who is especially excited by this transformation is "Gotta Dance" film director Dori Berinstein.
"The story that was unfolding before my eyes was so obviously filled with heart and hope and inspiration and very cool dance moves that it was obvious to me that this had to be a Broadway musical," said Berinstein.
Berinstein is co-producing the stage adaptation with Bill Damaschke, a native of Justice, Illinois.
"It's a multigenerational story," Damaschke said. "It's about young people and older people coming together and learning from each other."
To adapt the show, Berinstein and Damaschke brought aboard playwrights Chad Beguelin ("Aladdin") and Bob Martin ("The Drowsy Chaperone") to collaborate with lyricist Nell Benjamin ("Legally Blonde") and composer Matthew Sklar ("Elf"). There are also songs by "A Chorus Line" composer Marvin Hamlisch, who was attached to the project before he died in 2012.
Berinstein and Damaschke got Tony Award-winner Jerry Mitchell to direct and choreograph "Gotta Dance." He then gathered stars from TV such as Stefanie Powers ("Hart to Hart") and Georgia Engel ("The Mary Tyler Moore Show"), along with award-winning Broadway veterans Lillias White ("The Life") and André De Shields ("The Full Monty") to help form the cast.
Could Berinstein and Damaschke have another Chicago-to-Broadway smash on their hands? Mitchell has done it before with both "Kinky Boots" and "On Your Feet!"
"It's a story about not giving up on people who have a lot of wonderful experience and wisdom," said Mitchell, drawn to the message of inclusiveness in "Gotta Dance." "And also those people not giving up on themselves, you know, continuing to be included and continuing to have the strength to not fade away."
Mitchell also stresses that hip-hop isn't the only dance or music style featured in the show.
"They also do swing, tap, jitterbug, salsa -- there are all sorts of different types of dance," he said.
Nonetheless, Mitchell put his more mature cast members through a hip-hop dance "boot camp" before rehearsals began.
"Most of us seniors had never danced hip-hop and never thought about doing it, so we had to get our bodies acclimated," White said. "It's great to do a piece that involves how we live here and now and how seniors are like now as opposed to when my grandmother was alive."
Broadway veteran Nancy Ticotin, who plays the character of Camilla, agrees.
"I feel like I'm representing so many women, first of all Hispanic women, who are older but still feel sexy and alive and worthwhile," Ticotin said.
Ticotin is paired with former Chicagoan Alexander Aguilar, who plays Fernando.
Georgia Engel says she is wowed every day by her co-star André De Shields, whose credits include the original Broadway production of "The Wiz" back in 1975.
"André De Shields is inexhaustible. He dances with the young ones and they can't keep up with him," Engel said. "Stamina is a state of mind as well as a physical thing."
"Gotta Dance"Location: Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday (also Dec. 13, 20 and Jan. 3; no evening shows Dec. 24 and 31); 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (no matinee Dec. 16); 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; and 2 p.m. Sunday (also Dec. 24 and 31); from Sunday, Dec. 13, through Sunday, Jan. 17