Broadway’s Blankenbuehler recalls challenges of staging in Elmsford
Andy Blankenbuehler, above, who won a Tony Award for his choreography for “In the Heights,” began his professional career on the stage of Westchester Broadway Theatre, where “In the Heights” opens Feb. 7.
WBT is where Blankenbuehler earned the Equity card that made him a professional actor, in a 1991 production of “A Chorus Line” directed by Rob Marshall, who went on to earn an Oscar-nomination for directing “Chicago.”
Marshall was assisted on that production of “A Chorus Line” — the first show in the new WBT theater, built a stone’s throw from where the original An Evening Dinner Theatre stood — by his sister, Kathleen Marshall, who went on to win three Tonys for choreography (“Anything Goes,” “Wonderful Town,” “The Pajama Game”).
Blankenbuehler will consult with the creative team behind John Fanelli’s Standing Ovation Studios production, agreeing to come to the Elmsford stage to offer “my two cents,” which will undoubtedly be priceless to choreographer Morgan Marcell and director Fanelli.
It’s a tricky space to design dances and blocking for, as the thrust stage has audience members on three sides. If all of the action is played straight out, two-thirds of the audience will see it in profile, which is not what they paid for. So both Marshalls — and every director and choreographer since — have had to adjust to their environment, teaching Blankenbuehler a lesson that stays with him.
“The very first day of ‘Chorus Line’ rehearsals was the opening number, an iconic number where the dancers stand in a straight line. And most people in that show had done a production. So when we started the audition routine and Robby Marshall put us on three different angles, everybody who knew the choreography so well was like, ‘Yessssss! I get it!’ That moment has always stuck with me. We govern how the audience sees a show.”
That production was the only time Blankenbuehler ever danced on a thrust stage, back when Rob Marshall was “Robby.”
“I don’t think I’d call him ‘Robby’ anymore,” he says with a laugh.
Blankenbuehler has gone on to chart a choreographing career all his own, with “The Apple Tree,” “9 to 5,” “The People in the Picture,” and, of course, his Tony-winning turn on “In the Heights.”
This Broadway season, he directed and choreographed “Bring It On,” the cheerleading musical with music and lyrics by “In the Heights” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and Westchester’s own Tom Kitt (of “Next to Normal.”)
More: Read an interview with star Arielle Jacobs, Fanelli and Blankenbuehler here.