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A Chorus Girl's Life

Date: Apr 25, 2011


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Lisa Gajda is constantly changing costumes. In the new Broadway musical Catch Me if You Can, she plays everything from a Pan Am flight attendant to a high school student to a nurse, and every new outfit brings another dance number or song.

That might be chaotic, but for a performer in a Broadway ensemble, that's life.

"It’s your job as a dancer to figure out in each show, how to best serve the show," Gajda says. For Catch Me If You Can, that means serving breezy charm.

The show is based on the life of Frank Abagnale, Jr., a 1960s con man who managed to work as a pilot, a lawyer, and a doctor before he was 21. Like the movie of the same name, it sends audiences to a swinging retro world. "I try to dance a certain way the whole night without being too ridiculous," Gajda says. "I try to imagine a dancer on [the 1960s variety show] Hullabaloo, because if you look at clips of Hullabaloo, each of them dances a different way.”

Her favorite number is "Jet Set," a go-go-dusted ode to the airline industry that's filled with vivacious flight attendants. “I feel like a clear character in it, which is fun for me,” she says.

But as much as she likes playing a character, that's not always her goal in this production. "I’ve seen shows where people in the ensemble are trying to be characters, and they’re kind of distracting," she says. "I just try to affect a certain way of dancing, a looser way of dancing, a less contemporary way of dancing, and I do try to keep it simple. I don’t think that it’s my job to bring too many layers. I don’t think that would be appropriate.”

As is typical of life on Broadway, Gajda has had a busy few years, going from one project to another and sometimes balancing multiple projects at once. She auditioned for Catch Me If You Can while appearing in Finian’s Rainbow at night and workshopping Elf during the day. While Elf was on Broadway last winter, she worked with choreographer Jerry Mitchell in pre-production for Catch Me If You Can, and the company started full rehearsals about three weeks after Elf closed.

Those rehearsals were intense, since Gajda had to keep up with constantly changing dance numbers and learn her vocal parts in the ensemble songs.

And even though Catch Me If You Can officially opened a few weeks ago, Gajda says it's a misconception that everyone is home free: "You still have so much work to do to sell your show. We’re going to shoot a commercial. We’re going to be on Letterman. We’re going to do appearances. There’s still a lot of work to do that’s not just showing up for the show."


Linda Buchwald blogs for StageGradeand her own blog,Pataphysical Science. Follow her on Twitter: @PataphysicalSci

Cast photo by Joan Marcus