Tappin’ Into A Dream; Dancer Luke Hawkins & Harry Connick Jr. On Broadway

by Michael Mahany | 8/9/2019 4:36 PM

Luke Hawkins. Photo courtesy: LukeHawkins.com

For Luke Hawkins, dance has always been a huge part of life, but after working on the 2018 musical ‘The Sting’ at New Jersey’s iconic Paper Mill Playhouse with superstar musician Harry Connick, Jr., Hawkins’ fantasy life of what dance could do for his career began to come into a very clear and real reality.

Hawkins, a true triple-threat, made his Broadway debut in 2007’s ‘Xanadu’ and has performed around New York City and the world in shows like 'West Side Story’, ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’, ‘White Christmas’, and Cirque Du Soleil’s production of ‘Banana Schpeel’. Hawkins charismatic personality and high-level abilities as a dancer even scored him a role dancing in the 2016 Channing Tatum lead film, ‘Hail, Caesar!’.

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It’s Hawkins extraordinary tap dance skills, however, that have brought him standout recognition and skyrocketed his career to the next level.

“Tap dancing is definitely the biggest passion in my life,” Hawkins told Dance Network. “Tap dancing a combination of the two things I love most: music and dancing.”

Luke Hawkins (second from right) and company in 'Hail, Caesar!'. Photo courtesy: Universal Pictures.

“The music side is this never-ending labyrinth,” Hawkins continued. “I can always learn more about rhythm. I can always dance a little faster. A little cleaner. I can always swing a little harder. The steps I use while improvising can always be a little more creative. On the dance side, I can always expand my bag of tricks. I can always add more style or poise. I can always slide a little farther. I can always study old videos and learn more about what Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire did. I can always dance with more soul like Gregory [Hines]. It's a never-ending journey and there's nothing I love more.”

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When Hawkins was initially cast in Paper Mill’s production of ‘The Sting’ with Connick Jr, the dancer admits it took him some time to feel comfortable around the legendary musician.

“We had our first poker scene rehearsal for ‘The Sting’ at Paper Mill and I remember being such a star-struck, awkward idiot around him,” Hawkins said in a Facebook post in late February. "It took me about a month before I felt like I could actually be myself around him.”

“But,” as Hawkins continued in the post, the two really began to bond “talking about music and tap dancing and the greatest jazz pianists and entertainers.”

One day during the run of ‘The Sting’, though, that bond grew to more than just a mutual love of music and dance — a professional partnership was in the works.

"I’d give him pointers on how to improvise with tap,” Hawkins said in his post. “One day [Connick Jr.] said, ‘are you busy this summer, bro?’ I said something like, ‘not if you need me, dude,’ then he said, ‘you wanna come on the road with me bro?’ — After just about every bodily function of mine went into freak-out mode — I said ‘ummmm, ohhhh myyyy godddd yesss!’”

“A few days later,” Hawkins continued, “I asked him, ‘what song of yours should I dance to?’ He said ‘song?… I’m writing you a monster chart, bro!’ After that, we met up and arranged ‘Lukey Blues’ together — (I mean, he did it all but he wanted to let me have a little input). Since then, it has been the craziest and coolest adventure of my life. A June tour, from Florida, up to Maine. Three sold-out shows of 17,500 people at The Hollywood Bowl, London and Paris in October, and a Christmas tour in the Midwest and South in December. Hearing the crowd go nuts when he walks out on stage during 'Bourbon Street Parade’ at the top of the show, trading fours on stage with him, dancing with THE MOST INSANE BAND and becoming brothers with those incredible freaking guys, made me happiest and most fulfilled I may have ever been and has been the most fun I’ve ever had.”

For Hawkins, life on the road with a band of jazz players was certainly a bit of an awakening — even for the veteran touring and traveling performer.

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“After ‘The Sting’, I got to perform with Harry in 45 different concerts last year, and being on the road with a bunch of crazy jazz musicians is the absolute BEST,” Hawkins told DN. “And, I really love the new city-new show everyday lifestyle. It gets a little gnarly at some points with the bus pulling into hotels late every night, but it is SO MUCH FUN!”

Dance has truly always been apart of Hawkins’ life, too. His mother, Dierdre Hawkins, opened a dance studio, Hawkins School Of Performing Arts, in his hometown of Folsom, California when he was a young child.

“My mom opened a dance studio when I was three, so I was the kid running around getting in trouble and taking dance class,” Hawkins said. “The studio was my after-school hangout growing up. I started taking tap and jazz when I was seven.” 

The studio’s success doesn’t just happen to shine in Luke Hawkins’ success, either — the successful performing arts school has churned out successful dancers for years.

“[My mom] just opened for her 32nd year of business this past Monday!” Hawkins said. “I’m so proud of her and her studio. She now has a 10 room, 18,000 square foot beautiful studio and I'm so lucky I get to call it home.”

Even with all the success that Hawkins has found throughout his career, he still takes time to work with young dancers — and not just those at his home studio. Hawkins, at the time of this interview, was working with the widely successful ‘Broadway Dream Foundation’ and has also spent time performing and working with charitable organizations like The Actor's Fund, Broadway Care/Equity Fights AIDS, and more.

Luke Hawkins and Abigail Cowen dancing together at Broadway Dreams concert in Philadelphia. Video courtesy: Broadway Dreams Project.

Beginning in September, though, Hawkins is going back out on the road with the famed singer for his latest concert ‘Harry Connick Jr.’s True Love: A Celebration of Cole Porter’— but the kicker to it all: Hawkins is choreographing for the show.

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The concert tour, launching to celebrate the release of Connick Jr.’s latest album, is scheduled to play Broadway’s Nederlander Theatre in November, which means for Hawkins, a triumphant return to the Broadway boards. This time though, he’ll grace the Great White Way not just as a performer, but with that extra little billing title as a choreographer, too — something he never quite thought would happen.

“I am so freaking excited that I get to say that my choreography will be on a Broadway stage,” Hawkins said. “I can't say too much about it quite yet, but just know that Harry and I will be dancing our butts off!”

For more on Luke Hawkins, you can follow his lively Instagram page and check out his website. For more on Harry Connick, Jr., the tour, the Broadway production dates, and more, visit Connick Jr.’s website, here.

Michael Mahany serves as Dance Network’s New York City correspondent. He is also a professional actor, singer, dancer, writer, and host. Follow him on TwitterInstagram, or Facebook.