"Zoey's Extraordinary Best Friend" Episode 102 -- Pictured: (l-r) Andrew Leeds as David, Alex Newell as Mo, Peter Gallagher as Mitch, John Clarence Stewart as Simon, Michael Thomas Grant as Leif, Jane Levy as Zoey, Skylar Astin as Max, Lauren Graham as Joan -- (Photo by: Sergei Bachlakov/NBC)
Mandy Moore has had quite a ride over the last four years. La La Land took off like a rocket at the end of 2016 and Moore hasn't slowed down since. With two Emmy wins under her belt for Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance; she took on a new challenge in 2019 — choreographing for Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist on NBC.
The show follows the story of Zoey Clarke, played by Jane Levy, whose life is turned upside down after an earthquake. She begins to hear people's innermost thoughts through popular songs. Zoey has to deal with this gift of people privately sharing their feelings to her through music.
The cast and crew just wrapped Season 1 in early February in Vancouver, Canada and they are eager to share their musical and dance talents with TV viewers. After a sneak preview airing of Episode 1 in early January, the show had its official two-hour premiere on Sunday, Feb. 16 with a rerun of Episode 1 and the first airing of Episode 2.
Moore is not only a choreographer on Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist, but she's also a producer. This role is an important one to her because it gives her an even stronger voice behind the scenes.
"It's huge. I think choreographers are being defined very differently right now. We are more than step makers. We are people who produce, we are producing a product that is not just about coming into rehearsal at 8:00 a.m. and saying this is how you do it," Moore shared. "The producing credit came out of me being on the ground floor level with [executive producer] Austin Winsberg and [pilot director] Richard [Shepard]. I think it's so important for choreographers to have the responsibility and to be given access to sit at the table and talk about things on the ground level because it just makes the work better. If I have more information about what and why decisions are being made, I know how to do my job better and then I can ultimately make better steps."
Directors and producers are starting to realize that choreographers need to be a part of the team that makes creative decisions. It's not about stepping into a scene, doing the steps and then exiting the production — having a consistent presence makes the show more seamless.
"The last thing I do in my job is make steps, it's so many other things. It's breaking down the script. It's figuring out the arrangement. It's casting, it's coming up with the vocabulary, the movement, it's coaching, it's teaching," she explained. "The very last thing I think about is figuring out what the actual steps are. The steps in a lot of ways don't matter because they're subjective. It's how this step is done, how it's executed, how it's shot and how it fits the music and serves the script."
Mandy Moore. Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC.
While it is a team effort to create the musical numbers for Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist, Moore knew she wanted to elevate the importance of dance on a show. She made sure her storytelling strengths were honored in each scene.
"I'm lucky because Austin and Richard felt that dance needed to live in this world where it was head-to-toe long takes, which is a dream for dance," she said. "We're not going to shoot coverage. We're not just going to put it together in post [production]. I'm not interested in being on a show where you point the cameras at dance and then someone else figures out how it's seen."
In Episode 2, the Mandy Moore touch was quite evident in the "Moondance" number with Peter Gallagher, who plays Zoey's dad, Mitch. From the camera shots to the movement weaving in and out of rooms all done in one shot — no one choreographs and directs for the camera in the magical way Moore does.
"Austin gets dance and he gets the way that dance should live. I get the chance to shape these musical numbers. I decide how they're shot and I work with the director and Austin. With “Moondance,” I wanted a oner [one shot]," Moore said. "I designed it and it was really neat. We have this great team, who just loves to get in there and shoot dance, and it's very difficult to do those kinds of numbers. I love that I have a team that's excited about it."
Moore also sings the praises of Lauren Graham, who is tackling her new role as a singer and dancer with aplomb. Many of the Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist actors were nervous about taking on a show, where their talents beyond acting were going to be tested.
"She's a badass. She is so good. What's so funny is many of the actors have come to me and they've had terrible experiences with dance," she revealed. "They're scared to dance and they are scared to look silly or they're scared to be awkward. It's been so nice to break down a lot of that stuff with these actors. Lauren is a great mover and the way that she moves as Joan on the show has been so fun to find and evolve."
Moore believes that Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist has created tremendous growth for her as an artist and opened her mindset even more than she believed possible.
“Whoa! I feel like I went to university in three seconds. I've grown a lot, honestly, as a storyteller with dance. I feel like this show taught me a lot about how dance can live on a lot of different kinds of bodies,” she confided. “I've always thought I was pretty open to that, but I've been really lucky to work with really great dancers coming from So You Think You Can Dance, where it's all about the lifts and jumps. And of course, the sex appeal of Dancing with the Stars. So it's been nice to shift my gears and recalibrate how I see dance and beauty in dance, and how I can pull things out of people and how to give that to audiences."
Now that Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist has wrapped production for Season 1, Moore is planning on catching her breath for just a moment or two.
"I need to take a second after Zoey's. I will have done 62 numbers and each one of those is a hugely creative process. There's been talk of me possibly directing next season and that makes me want to throw up," she laughed. "But that could be amazing. Maybe that's where things need to go? I don't know, but I will always choreograph. I love choreographing."
Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist airs on Sundays at 9/8c on NBC.
Don't miss Dance Network's 2019 'To The Pointe' interview with Mandy Moore, Jeff Thacker and Robert Roldan: