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5 minutes with a Tony nominee: ‘Illinoise’’s Justin Peck

The 2024 Best Choreography nominee discusses the conception and movement of the new musical based on the album by Sufjan Stevens.

Justin Peck at the gala celebration for “Illinoise” on Broadway, 2024 (Credit: Michaelah Reynolds)

The new musical “Illinoise” leapt at lightning speed from Off-Broadway (closing its run at the Park Avenue Armory on March 26) to Broadway (opening at the St. James Theatre on April 24). But the evolution of the theater piece took place over the course of more than a decade. 

Director, choreographer and co-book writer Justin Peck heard the album “Illinois” when he was a teenager. Sufjan Stevens’ music and storytelling captured him and, since that moment, Peck felt there was a dance-theater-music piece sitting inside the album. What Peck developed, along with co-book writer Jackie Sibblies Drury, is a musical that relies on choreography and clues in Stevens’ lyrics to tell a complete narrative. 

“Illinoise” has no spoken dialogue nor is it a sung-through musical. Rather, three vocalists sing Stevens’ songs, which serve more like a film score. Yet the plot, centered on a group of storytellers sharing tales around a campfire, unfolds through dance with precision. 

Peck is nominated for his choreography. Here, he discusses finding the story in Stevens’ original album, defining his own movement vocabulary and connecting with audiences.

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