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Why It's Awesome When Characters in Straight Plays Dance

By: Linda Buchwald
Date: Dec 12, 2018

Welcome to Geek Out/Freak Out, where theatre fans get enthusiastic about things


This week, TDF Stages contributor Linda Buchwald geeks out with fellow Drama Desk nominator and journalist, Doug Strassler.

Today's topic: dance sequences in straight plays

Linda Buchwald: I came up with the idea for this GOFO when I saw Teenage Dick, Mike Lew's irreverent take on Richard III set in a modern-day high school. It has this really wonderful and intimate scene where Anne (Tiffany Villarin) teaches Richard (Gregg Mozgala) how to dance -- they later perform the routine at their school's Sadie Hawkins dance. It got me thinking about how much I enjoy unexpected dance numbers in straight plays.

Doug Strassler: I liked that scene, too. I thought it was a great way of using the high school milieu. It also helped establish a connection between the two.

Linda: Exactly, and it defied expectations. Both Mozgala and his character have cerebral palsy, so Richard is nervous about dancing. But he turns out to have smooth moves.

Doug: Yes! I think dance sequences in straight plays can tell you a lot about the characters when done right. In Joshua Harmon's Significant Other, the goofy way the old friends dance together at the wedding was spot-on. It totally fit their personalities.

Linda: Yes! That's probably my favorite example of a straight play dance break. There was actually a choreographer, Sam Pinkleton, but it felt so spontaneous.

Doug: Totally! And natural, too.

Linda: It did what dance numbers should do, which is entertain, but it also let us get to know everyone better. You can really see how deep their friendships go by the way they dance together. On the other hand, in Teenage Dick, that dance rehearsal scene showed how they were just getting to know each other. It also revealed the vulnerable side of an angry character who sets some awful things in motion.

Doug: Yes! The Teenage Dick dancing makes it hard for the audience to totally turn against Richard. In fact, I would say it communicates more than his direct addresses do. His soliloquies are, to me, him putting up a front -- his armor. In the dance sequences, he lets his defenses down.


Linda: To go in a completely different direction, let's talk Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which even got a Tony nomination for choreography. This show almost feels like a musical because it has so much movement and music.

Doug: But it's definitely a straight play (and not just because the Tony nominators said so). While there is choreography throughout, it doesn't always feel like dance. Steven Hoggett is a master at integrating movement into the fabric of a play without it feeling intrusive or obvious. See Peter and the Starcatcher, John Tiffany's revival of The Glass Menagerie, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and the recent revival of Angels in America, all of which he worked on.

Linda: I was surprised to see so much dancing in Young Jean Lee's Straight White Men on Broadway. I missed it when it was at the Public. Did it always have that?

Doug: I think there was the same dancing and loud music in the earlier version. But it surprised me, too, because it happens in an otherwise naturalistic play.

Linda: It was so fun to watch Armie Hammer jump around to Icona Pop's "I Love It." But I also thought the fraternal relationship he, Josh Charles and Paul Schneider established earlier in the show was reinforced with that number.

Doug: It gave a lot of insight into what it must have been like for the brothers to grow up together under one roof. It also showed that the Paul Schneider character -- in the midst of a crisis when we meet him -- was once more fun and outgoing. He has the best moves!

Linda: They all had pretty impressive moves for straight white men. Do you think the trend of dancing in straight plays is on the rise? And if so, why? I know we hear a lot about how straight plays are a much harder sell than musicals, especially on Broadway. But it's not like these plays are advertising their dancing, so that's not it.

Doug: It certainly feels like there's been more dancing in straight plays lately -- we didn't even get to the spirited Irish dancing in The Ferryman -- but I don't have statistics to back that up. If it truly is the case, I think it's a testament to the vision of our current storytellers.

Do any straight play dance breaks stand out in your memory? Tell us about it in the comments.


Linda Buchwald tweets about theatre at @PataphysicalSci. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.

Top image: Gregg Mozgala and Tiffany Villarin in Teenage Dick. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

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tweets about theatre at @PataphysicalSci. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.