Alex Brightman, Rob McClure, Kerry Butler, Sophia Anne Caruso, Leslie Kritzer & Adam Dannheisser. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy.
It’s showtime! Literally.
‘Beetlejuice The Musical’, a stage adaptation of the cult classic 1988 Tim Burton film, has been making waves in New York City since it opened on Broadway earlier this season.
Since ‘Beetlejuice's out of town tryout in Washington DC last fall, Alex Timbers, the Tony-nominated director who helms the musical, has been busy making the necessary changes for Broadway.
Astaire Award-winning choreographer Connor Gallagher, known for his work designing the movement for musicals like ‘Elf’, ‘The Robber Bridegroom’ at Roundabout Theatre Company, ‘Into The Woods’ at The Public Theatre, and more has created the versatile, multi-disciplined, athletically challenging, and honestly driven choreography for the piece.
The dance sequences in the musical are also a monster of a match for any swing and dance captain to nail down — especially when that movement is being created from scratch.
Swings — whose job it is to learn and understudy the entire ensemble of performers in a musical — are called to “swing” on when a member of in the company is out, many times last minute. In the rehearsal process of a new show, swings are tasked with tracking all of the different performers they cover, and in the dynamic and ever-changing environment of a brand new Broadway musical, the job is remarkably overwhelming.
While swings are a crucial part to the success of any long-running show and often go as the unsung heroes of many productions, dance captains are charged with learning, maintaining, and teaching the choreography set by the choreographer. And, similar to the vigorous work of a swing — both in a rehearsal process or long run — their job is arduous.
There is, however, a small faction of performers in the professional theatre community, that are asked to do both. And, those that do it successfully, earn the respect of their peers, their bosses, and the industry at large, and they’re some of the most valuable talent in showbiz.
Dance Network had the chance to speak with one such performer: Brooke Engen. Engen, ‘Beetlejuice’ on Broadway’s swing, dance captain, and understudy for the role of “Girl Scout” is also known for her work in ‘Hairspray’, ‘Legally Blonde’, and ‘Rock Of Ages’. In her interview with the network, Engen not only gave us some tips and insight into how she successfully does her seemingly impossible job, but she also elaborated on the very special and unique perspective she has in show business. *Hint: Her identical twin sister, Tiffany, is also a Broadway performer.
Check out the interview below.
Dance Network: Brooke, thank you so much for taking some time out of your CRAZY schedule to chat with us — we know your time is precious, especially in the midst of Tony Award season. So, as the swing and dance captain of a new Broadway show, you've got an enormous undertaking in front of you. What it's been like working with Connor Gallagher on the movement? Any insight into how the development of the movement has come about?
Brooke Engen: I have worked with Connor Gallagher on several projects, and it has always been so much fun to be a part of his creative process. He is extremely versatile, which is what makes him the perfect choreographer for this show. It's edgy, comedic, mysterious, athletic, technical, and character driven. There is tap, stomp, cheer, musical theatre, partnering, parkour, salsa, acro, and jazz! The choreography is always used to push the story forward and incorporates authentic movement for the world Connor and Alex [Timbers] have created.
As the dance captain, swing, and understudy, I have a very full plate. I cover both men and women of the ensemble and the role of “Girl Scout.”
DN: Even for an accomplished performer, dance captain and swing like you, your job during the rehearsal and preview process of a brand new Broadway show is genuine craziness... so, how have you managed to translate the choreography and storytelling into something you can help maintain and teach as a dance captain? Have you been able to start working on solidifying, writing down, and drawing up notes on the different tracks you cover or are things still dynamically changing?
BE: Thank you for such an insightful question! Yes... rehearsals, tech, and previews can be a challenging, but exciting time for a company. During previews, we are constantly changing things. I like to use scratch charts. They are simple and quick charts with notes I make in my notebook. At a moment's notice, I can pop into any track with just a quick glance at my notebook. Now that we are open, I have made my formal show bible with very detailed staging charts. For my swing brain, I like to have a small notebook where each person I cover has their track specifically listed. It fits in my quick change booth backstage if I need to check it. After I go on for a track, I usually make myself re-read the track I wrote and note any changes. I also note in the margins any tips/tricks that made me feel successful in certain moments, or things that felt differently than I anticipated.
DN: How different is the musical from the film, and what can audiences expect? How do you think the incorporation of music and dance have enhanced the story? Have things changed a lot since the out-of-town tryout in Washington DC?
BE: This show has what fans of the movie are waiting to see, and yet it offers a deeper look at these characters. It is one of the best movie musical adaptations I have ever seen. It's not just the movie onstage. It's a hilarious and thrilling night of theatre, and you get to watch some of the funniest actors on Broadway knock it out of the park nightly. I've never laughed so much in a rehearsal process. The music and book are to die for.... pun intended.
Our show has changed a lot from our [Washington] DC run, and I was really proud of that version of the show, too. This entire creative team has sprinkled their magic on every moment of this show and I'm excited for Broadway audiences to experience it. So put on some black and white stripes, get your tickets, and get to the Winter Garden Theatre because IT'S SHOWTIME!
Brooke and Tiffany Engen. Photo credit: Broadway.com
DN: We can’t wait to see it! Now, before we let you go, we want to ask you about you and your sister. You and your identical twin sister are both professional actors and performers working in New York City — can you give us a little insight into your relationship and how things work out professionally for you?
BE: My twin sister and I are both in the industry. She is playing Regina in the upcoming revival of ‘Rock Of Ages’. It's a wonderful thing to have a sibling who knows exactly what you are going through in this business. She is my biggest cheerleader and she keeps me sane. Sometimes we go in for the same projects or roles and other times we get seen for totally different things. We are not competitive with each other at all. We just hope at least one of us gets the job.... doesn't matter who. I want her to succeed just as much as she wants me to. If you asked me who my favorite person to work with though.... it would be her. Our dream is to play opposite each other as Bette Midler's character in a musical version of ‘Big Business’.... just putting that out in the universe.
‘Beetlejuice’ is nominated for nine 2019 Tony Awards including Best Musical. The production is currently playing the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway. For more on ‘Beetlejuice,’ check out the show’s site and follow on Instagram and Twitter.
For more on Brooke Engen, be sure to follow her on Instagram.
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