Chase Brock. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy. Photo courtesy: RaynorshinePR.
The creator of ‘The Chase Brock Experience’ and the choreographer behind the recent Broadway production of 'Be More Chill', Chase Brock just put his stamp on the New York theatre world again with the highly anticipated, wildly celebrated, and well attended Public Works production of ‘Hercules', which closed Sunday night after a sold-out one-week run in The Public's Central Park located Delacorte Theatre.
Brock, the choreographer behind the recent and monstrously popular online phenomenon, but too-short-lived Broadway production, ‘Be More Chill’, was given the opportunity to translate the Alan Menken/David Zippel animated 1997 classic ‘Hercules’ to the stage. Along with a team led by Public Works founder and resident director Lear deBessonet, Brock and the gang staged the brand new version of the beloved Disney favorite — featuring a shiny new book by Kristoffer Diaz —to the boards of the gorgeous outdoor Delacorte Theatre.
In the past, taking any treasured animated paragon out of the Disney vault and translating it to the stage has always been a trial by fire for theatrical creatives, but Brock and the team made sure they were up to the challenge with ‘Hercules’.
“We did about a year’s worth of pre-production, including extensive work on the writing, three 29-hour readings to test the new songs and scenes, at least 100 hours of design brainstorm meetings, 3 weeks of dance pre-production, and then daily pre-production to stay ahead even up through the final week of rehearsal,” Brock told Dance Network in an interview. “Basically, there’s no short cut – we really accomplished this by good old fashioned hard work.”
Jelani Aladdin in ‘Hercules’. Photo credit: Joan Marcus.
One extraordinarily special part about the Public's production is that it appeared through the company’s Public Works program. The program, which “aims to restore and build community by connecting people through theater,” “deliberately blurs the line” by bringing professional artists together with community members to create "theater that is not only for the people but by and of the people as well.”
In other words, this production of ‘Hercules’ brought together a cast of about a dozen experienced Broadway vets and blended them alongside a community ensemble of 200.
“Public Works is our proposal to humanity for a better way of being citizens and community members,” Brock said. “We practice working harmoniously, we practice deep listening, we work to accommodate and provide access to as many voices as possible – and of course my team and I worked hard to stage and space and chart 200 bodies onstage for the entire evening!”
“I think the show is incredibly emotionally rich and layered because we have brought so many perspectives to the storytelling, and so many different kinds of diversity,” Brock continued. “Community theater at this level is not less, it’s more.”
That plethora of Broadway vets included the likes of Jelani Aladdin from Disney’s ‘Frozen’, ‘Spring Awakening’ alum Krysta Rodriguez, former ‘The Lion King’ cast member Rema Webb, Tony Award winner Roger Bart, Tony winner James Monroe Iglehart, Grammy winner Tamika Lawrence, and more. While the company of pros headlined the production, their professional contribution alongside the passionate community artists ultimately enriched the production’s collective experience.
“I think our Broadway cast members are absolutely perfectly cast,” Brock said. “Getting to help them bring to life their versions of these characters has been immensely gratifying.”
“Jelani was ready to use 'every cell’ of his being for his role,” Brock explained of Jelani Aladdin who played the title role in ‘Hercules’.
“Krysta,” Brock went on, “was looking for simplicity and strong, effective choices in her physicality, Roger wanted to be sure the comedy came through in his choreography and movement, Tamika and Rema needed to be able to have movement and staging that would support the insane high belting and singing they have to do all night long. It was a thrill to try and serve them all in different ways simultaneously.”
Rema Webb, Tamika Lawrence, Ramona Keller, Brianna Cabrera, and TieishaThomas in ‘Hercules’. Photo credit: Joan Marcus.
Brock, who when he was younger asked for dance lessons after his parents took him to see an older cousin’s spring dance recital, has spent a good portion of his professional career working with some of the biggest names in the biz. One repeated and prominently featured point on his resume, though, is that many of those names are the biggest female names in the contemporary Broadway echelon.
“My very first mentor in the Broadway world was Ann Reinking when I was a teenager,” Brock told us. “She was my teacher and choreographer and director — so her tremendous rigor set the tone for my entire career, essentially.”
Brock served as Ann Reinking's choreographic assistant on 2003's 'The Look Of Love'. He also assisted Kathleen Marshall on the 2003 revival of 'Wonderful Town' and provided additional choreography to the 2011 Julie Taymor directed the production of 'Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark'.
“The great Pat Birch was also a mentor,” Brock continued. “Pearl Lang was my composition teacher, Susan Stroman gave me my Broadway debut [in the 2000 revival of 'The Music Man'] and encouraged me as a choreographer — all of these amazing women have affected my work, and demonstrated the quality that it is possible to achieve with exacting standards, patience, positivity. I would say I have worked for women more than I have worked for men, and I’m very grateful for their examples and leadership in all aspects of my career.”
While ‘Hercules’ may have garnered further acclaim for Brock, his work creating the choreography for ‘Be More Chill’ established him as a top-tier Broadway choreographer.
“I love ‘Be More Chill!’” Brock said of the musical. “I’m as proud of ‘Be More Chill’ as anything I’ve ever been involved in, and I hope we’ll see much more of it across the world in the years to come.”
When asked about the different styles of movement required for ‘Be More Chill’, Brock described a series of differing dance lexicons to help tell the story.
'Be More Chill'. Photo credit: Maria Barinova.
“Developing several choreographic vocabularies was key,” Brock said. “The dancing the students do when they don’t know they’re dancing (but are because they're inside a musical), the dancing the students do when they’re at a Halloween party and know they’re dancing socially, the dance language of a computer chip and the physicality of that as it spreads across the student body, the dance language of best friends Michael and Jeremy as they play video games, and so on.”
“I’ve never been part of anything that created so honest and true and dynamic a bond between creatives, cast, and audience,” Brock went on. “We really spoke to people with ‘Be More Chill’, and they spoke back to us in a way that was beautiful and inspiring.”
The full company of ‘Hercules’ at the Delacorte. Photo credit: Joan Marcus.
According to the Public Theatre, ‘Hercules’ featured “200+ New Yorkers including Jelani Alladin (Hercules), Roger Bart (Hades), Jeff Hiller(Panic), James Monroe Iglehart (Philoctetes), Ramona Keller (Thalia), Tamika Lawrence (Calliope), Krysta Rodriguez (Megara), Rema Webb (Terpsichore), cameo groups 10 Hairy Legs, Passaic High School Marching Band, and a special featured performance by Broadway Inspirational Voices.”