Northwestern Press

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Karen Dearborn's 'Crazy' choreography

Wednesday, June 19, 2013 by JENNIFER McKEEVER Special to The Press in Focus

First of three parts

Choreography: How does it begin? Where does it come from?

Explains Karen Dearborn, a professor and founding Director of Dance at Muhlenberg College, who choreographed "Crazy for You" for the Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre, where the Tony-winning Gershwin musical continues through June 30:

"Choreographing for a musical starts with research, reading the play, listening to the music, researching the dances of the period and understanding the original and subsequent productions to grasp the musical's history.

"Then, often it is imagined based on the dancers' and actors' skills, my personal inspirations, and the work of the other designers, set and costumes in particular."

Dearborn has been choreographing two musicals each year for the past 20 years.

"In a show like 'Crazy for You,' the dancers are the key to plot development. The leading characters fall in love through the dances. The dances showcase the dream states and desires of the lead character to reveal the inner psyche. The dances bring communities together, for example, cowboys and New York showgirls, and the wealthy and the poor," says Dearborn.

There are eight big dance numbers, with a few solos in between in "Crazy for You," that "entertain with energy, intricacy, musicality and pure joy in the moving body," exclaims Dearborn with a smile.

"Choreographers must figure out what is the purpose of the number and how it moves the show forward. Often, this is a tough nut to crack because there are no notes in the script except 'dance.'"

Highlights of Dearborn's choreography include approaches from the show's past productions and original choreography by Susan Stroman, such as the strumming of the dancers like an upright bass in the number, "Slap that Bass." Dearborn explores the use of ropes in creative ways that entertain and inspire smiles.

The dancers tap on round tins and pass them around for "I Got Rhythm."

Dearborn had special moving steps made so that the dancers could go up and down or jump down on her inventive stage prop.

All are entertaining twists added to Dearborn's original choreography executed professionally by a well-suited range of talented dancers.

"The choreography for the couple was created as a historical reference to the 1930's dance team, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers," mentions Dearborn of Bobby Child (Frankie J. Grande) and Polly Baker (Sari Weinerman).

The show's ensemble taps with clear sounds and clean lines and blends the lighter style of the Broadway Astaire style with the hoofing style of African-American tap dancers. They also express a great jazzy Broadway dance style with a touch of Bob Fosse.

AlexJo Natale, associate choreographer for "Crazy for You," tap expert and Muhlenberg alumna, was integral for the creation of the tap numbers.

"Each production is unique with new sets, actors and dancers. I like to keep myself open to possibilities in the rehearsal so that fresh ideas pop up and it becomes a true collaboration with the dancers and other artists working on the production," says Dearborn.

Next: Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival's "Oklahoma!" choreography

Part Three: Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre "Jesus Christ Superstar" choreography