Photo Credit: EscapeToMargaritavilleMusical.com
For dancers, the “out-of-town-tryout” of a new Broadway musical can mean the first step in a career shaping gig. For years, going out-of-town has been part of the road to Broadway; a show will often cast and rehearse in New York City, then run for a few weeks in a city like Chicago, Pittsburgh, Boston, or San Francisco. These pre-Broadway runs in such artistically sophisticated towns provide writers, producers, choreographers, and directors an idea of what’s working with audiences and what might need tweaking. They provide an essential opportunity to fine-tune a new show before putting it before the make-or-break New York City critics and theatre-goers.
In recent years, many shows have opted to skip the out-of-town tryout process and open directly on Broadway without much more than a few workshops. Some musicals, like The Book Of Mormon and Something Rotten have found great success with the cold open, while others, not so much.
The resurgence of the out-of-town tryout, however, is making a comeback. The 2018 Broadway season is shaping up to feature new musicals like Mean Girls, Frozen, Spongebob Square Pants, and Escape To Margaritaville, all of which have or are currently “out-of-town-ing”.
Throughout an out-of-town engagement, a new show can go through many different aspects of a rehearsal and performance process. Grueling ten-out-of-twelve rehearsals and preview weeks made up of rehearsal and performance combined days often ask dancers to muster all the energy and strength they can to get through the long hours of a tech and preview period.
This passed week, Dance Network was able to catch up with a few dancers from the Broadway-bound company ofwhich just finished rehearsing in New Orleans, Louisiana and is moving to preview in Houston, Texas.
Escape To Margaritaville, as one might guess, features the music of the legendary performer, song writer, and recording artist Jimmy Buffet. The musical tells the story of work-obsessed Rachel and guitar-strapped and all-to-relaxed resort entertainer Tully, who meet and fall in love on an island in the middle of paradise. The capers of Tully and Rachel’s hilarious cohorts on and off the island keep the audience laughing and singing along throughout the piece, and with choreography by TONY® nominee Kelly Devine, dancers are tasked with challenging movement and humorous and character driven staging
Rema Webb (left), Samantha Farrow (center), Sara Andreas and Kelly Devine (as listed, right). Photo Credits: Escape To Margaritaville/Samantha Farrow/MM
On their company travel day between New Orleans and Houston, Dance Network chatted with Margaritaville’s Samantha Farrow, Sara Andreas, and Rema Webb to find out just what out-of-towning is like for dancers.
Dance Network: Thank you all so much for taking the time to talk to us on your day-off/travel day. During these long days of tech rehearsals and previews, tell us, how much does dance technique play into your ability to get through it all?
Samantha Farrow: I think with a show like ours that features so many different styles, technique definitely helps you to know what muscles to really stretch and how to stay warm during long rehearsals. That’s especially true when you’re asked to hit a number after sitting for a long time. Knowing how far you can push yourself and how to engage the right muscles, helps you know when to pull back and when to hit it hard— because, when you get asked to go full-out, and you’re not ready, that’s when people pull muscles and get hurt.
Rema Webb: I’m not a dancer-dancer per se, but as someone who dances in the capacity that I do, and as a performer for so many years, dance and vocal technique on these long days teaches you how to have stamina. If you don't warm-up or warm-down properly, you are going to injure yourself. Especially, if it’s a day where you’re doing a lot of physical activity intermixed with a lot of down time.
Sara Andreas: Exactly, I think technique helps you know your body, so you know your limits. Luckily, we have a choreographer in Kelly Devine who recognizes what the long hours can do to dancers’ bodies, so, if she needs something full-out after a period of rest, she’ll give us a heads up beforehand.
DN: How do you all keep yourselves focused and energized through a twelve hour day, or on those crazy days where you have rehearsal all afternoon before a performance?
Sara Andreas: Lots of coffee! (Laughing). For me, I think since I’ve spent a lot of time as a swing and a dance captain, that’s helped. When you’re in one or both of those positions, you have to know what’s going on all the time, and even though I’m not doing those jobs right now on this show, that training has always helped me.
SF: Having a good group of people is key, and we’re lucky that way. A group that get’s along, can play off of one another, and have a good time makes a huge difference.
RW: Knowing the balance between those moments when you’re needed onstage and you’ve got to really focus your energy, and when you’re not needed and you can conserve energy and relax— that’s important. I also love, toward the end of the tech process, to sit in the house and see how everything is coming together, that helps me see the arc of the show and really focus in.
DN: Ok, so be honest, are you all having as much fun dancing onstage as it looks like you are?
SF: I will say, in all honesty, yes! Sometimes, it can take a lot to get to that “place”, but once the lights are up and the band is playing, absolutely. Yes, all the way!
SA and RW: (together) Yes! (laughter).
DN: How exciting is it for you as dancers to know you’re moving to Broadway?
SF: Well, since it’s my Broadway debut, it’s everything. Without trying to sound cheesy, it’s the culmination of all the work I’ve put into everything. It makes the long rehearsals that much sweeter, because just when you start to get bitter in a ten-out-of-twelve rehearsal, you think to yourself, ‘this is it, this is what I’ve worked for’.
SA: Rema? What about you, this is like your sixth or seventh Broadway show?
RW: Listen! I still have the SAME feeling! I feel so grateful and honored for each opportunity, because in this career path, nothing is guaranteed, so I don’t take any opportunity for granted. Especially so, to be apart of a show like this, from the beginning, to originate a new piece— that makes it even more delicious. So yes, I still have the exact same excitement. I feel honored every time I get to be onstage, and I feel honored to get to do it again this time.
SA: Being apart of this show makes me feel good, and makes me feel accomplished. It feels like all of the hard work and commitment we’ve all put in to being professional dancers and actors is worth it. I also think we’re really lucky to be doing Margaritaville on Broadway, because not only is it such a fun show to do, it’s also makes people feel good. With so much political divisiveness these days, doing something that brings people joy and provides a little escape, is important. Challenging people with art is, of course, important, but there’s certainly room for works that provide pure enjoyment.
And, Broadway is the pinnacle of what we do, so anytime a rehearsal is tough or it’s a long day, or we’re running something over and over again, you remember it’s happening this way because they want to get it right, to get it to Broadway caliber.
SF: You know, I was out with my boyfriend last night who was visiting me, and we were watching the world series— he said to me, ‘how does it feel to have made it to the “pros”? Broadway is like the major league of your field of work’. And, we thought more about it— you know, how many people dream of being a professional baseball player or a professional dancer on Broadway?… It feels really good.
DN: Being Broadway dancers, what would advice would you have for the next generation of dancers?
SF: Train a lot! Work on all styles of dance, especially the ones you’re uncomfortable with, because the ones you’re good at will always come easier. And, work on harmony singing, for real! As a dancer, you’re going to be asked to part-sing, and sometimes those harmonies are not cute! (laughing). Also, with auditions, don’t be afraid to go full-out—don’t just try to blend in, sometimes it might work against you, but most times, it will work for you.
SA: I really think style is so important, learn how to absorb style. Also, I’d say, don’t be afraid to learn from your peers and those older than you. When you take class, especially in New York, you’re in class with performers who’ve been around in the business for a long time: watch them, learn from them, see what they do.
RW: Coming from an old school world, please know your worth— know you’re worthy to be there. Also, work hard, train hard, and never stop studying. Learn every different kind of technique that you can; contemporary, Fosse, old school, new school, tap, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, all of it. Put all of it in your bag of tricks because one day, you’ll want to use it. Keep taking class, get a vocal coach, get in a scene-study class, and take really good care of your body.
Jimmy Buffet onstage with the cast of Escape To Margaritaville. Photo Credit: MM
Escape To Margaritaville moves onto Houston, Texas this week, and then to Chicago, Illinois next week through December 3rd. The Broadway production begins previews in February of 2018. To see the rest of the cast, get tickets, and find out more, visit escapetomargarittavillemusical.com