In “Bianca,” one of the many dance-centric numbers in “Kiss Me, Kate,” Corbin Bleu zips up and down the staircase, tapping every surface until his feet eventually touch the ceiling.
Those moves, and the decision to go for the ceiling, came from the mind of choreographer Warren Carlyle, who is Tony nominated for his work on the show.
Carlyle spoke with Broadway News about how he came up with new moves for the revised classic and how dance interacts with the gender politics in the show.
Broadway News: How did you approach the choreography? Did you reference the original musical?
Carlyle: I didn’t. It’s all new. I’m a big fan of those movie musicals. There were a lot of great movie musicals through the ‘40s and I looked at a lot of those. “On the Town” is probably a good reference. “Easter Parade” is a good reference.
The show itself is quite challenging choreographically, because I’ve chosen to do many different styles. There’s crazy Nicholas Brothers tapping and then there’s hot American jazz in “Too Darn Hot.” “Tom, Dick or Harry” is all character driven. “Bianca” is crazy tapping. “Cantiamo D’Amore” is very classical, with tambourines and a tarantella. So there’s a lot of really varied styles within it. That was that was the fun and that was the challenge.
BN: Did the changes to the script, which give Kelli O’Hara’s character more agency, affect your approach to the choreography at all?
Carlyle: Yes, because I started to understand that I needed to find more equality in the dance. And then to go one step further to find the competitive nature of the battle of the sexes. And then within the choreography, if the men are smart, the women are smarter
BN: In “Bianca,” there’s a moment where Corbin Bleu swings up his feet to dance on the ceiling of the set. Was that number built around what Corbin could do or how did that come about?
Carlyle: That was a number I worked on the most. I had probably five goes at that. And as I was sitting in the third row of the theater and looking up, the only place in David Rockwell’s incredible set that he had not danced on was that ceiling. So I knew somehow I had to get his feet up there. And that was it. I went to David Rockwell and asked him to reinforce some of the railings so we could dance on the railings. And Corbin was game enough to try for three hours and figure out how to do it.
BN: What’s your favorite moment in the show?
Carlyle: It’s the audience reaction to “Too Darn Hot,” because they very politely applaud for a musical number and then I think they realize that those dancers just danced for 10 minutes and 45 seconds. There’s a really great tipping point in the applause that I think is profound, because when do you really just get to applaud for dance? Just pure dance? It’s very rare. So I was I’m happy that they get the kind of that kind of affirmation.