Broadway Series: Unsung Heroes of Theatre
Introducing our Broadway Series: The Unsung Heroes of Theatre. Our first feature in this series shines a spotlight on the incredible Dance Captains of King Kong the musical currently playing at the Broadway Theatre on 1681 Broadway in New York City.
The Fame Reporter interviewed the incomparable Broadway performers who currently star in King Kong Broadway, Eliza Ohman (Assistant Dance Captain and Ensemble member) and Ashley Andrews (Dance Captain and Swing).
Eliza has recently performed as Co-Dance Captain and Swing in the highly acclaimed Hamilton: An American Musical on Broadway. She had the great privilege of working closely with the original creative team and assisted in the setting of Hamilton’s 2nd National Tour. In addition she has been seen onstage in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and has starred on screen in Chicago, How You Look At It, “Last Week Tonight,” “Saturday Night Live” and “The Tonight Show.”
Ashley’s credits include performing in the U.S in Jesus Christ Superstar and on the West End/UK in An American in Paris, Wicked, Chicago, Billy Elliot, Jekyll and Hyde and Mack and Mabel. Andrews has starred on screen in “The Universe” (BBC),“Galavant” (ABC), Avengers: Age of Ultron and he is an Original Member of The McOnie Company.
We talked to Eliza and Ashley about their love of dancing, juggling their roles as dance captains with their onstage tracks in this beast of a show and more.
See our interview below!
Welcome to The Fame Reporter Eliza and Ashley, what was it that sparked your interest in dancing and performing initially?
I always loved the old MGM/RKO movie musicals and was mesmerized by the dancing. It didn’t matter if it was Gene Kelly, Ginger Rogers, or an ensemble transition, my eyes were glued to the dancing. My parents decided to put me in dance class when I was 3 and I never looked back.
I remember watching all the old films… Oliver, Hello Dolly, West Side Story, White Christmas the list goes on. I remember watching them thinking I want to do that, I want be like them dancing and singing. I don’t know what it was just always felt like I was meant to do it.
Why do you think dance is important and how do you think it contributes to staying healthy, active and igniting creativity?
Dance has always been a language where I have communicated best. It teaches you to tell a story through action instead of words. I think a lot of the movement in modern dance originates from everyday life and so inspiration can come from anyone and anywhere. Dancing keeps me both physically and mentally healthy. You never work a day in your life if you do what you love.
The body doesn’t lie. We can be in a conversation with someone and our body language can communicate something entirely separate from our words. That’s what makes dance so special. When words are no longer enough to communicate, we use dance to tell the story. By eliminating one mode communication, ie. dialogue/song, we’re forced to think beyond what we use in our daily life to communicate and instead find innovative ways to make our message clear.
I also find there’s nothing more gratifying than catching your breath after you’ve poured your whole being into a huge dance sequence. It’s invigorating for the mind and the body.
What is involved in your dance captain role in King Kong on Broadway?
As an Assistant Dance Captain, my primary responsibility is to be a liaison between the onstage company and Stage Management/Ashley, our Dance Captain. I’m an extra set of eyes onstage every night and an additional resource to the onstage company when they need an immediate answer in the course of our show.
Ultimately, I’m just trying to support Ashley’s efforts to keep our show in the best shape it can be.
What is your favourite scene or number in the show choreography-wise?
I think my favourite number in the show has to be the opening. I love some of the choreography in it. Also the partner work. I have always loved partnering and in this show I get to partner both men and women.
I am IN LOVE with our opening number. The technical elements provide and visual feast and the choreography perfectly captures the energy of New York City.
What is it like working with director/choreographer Drew Mconie and what have you learned from him thus far?
Drew is a passionate and articulate theatre maker. I think the biggest thing I learned from him is the value of clear communication. At the end of the day, people just want to be heard. If you meet your company with that level of respect, they’ll always be on your team and help bring your vision to life.
I have known Drew now for about 10 years now. Over those ten years I have learnt a great deal. As a dancer he inspires me to push my body to new limits and creatively he pushes me to think outside of the box and challenge everything I know as a given.
Most important Drew is a very good friend to me which allows me to totally trust him. I believe only when you truly trust someone creatively can you totally hand yourself over to them which allows you to discover things without getting in your own way.
How do you juggle your role as dance captain with your ensemble plot or swing tracks in the show?
The operative word is juggle! It’s an Exceptionally demanding show. As Dance captain it’s my job to maintain the vision of the choreographer and as a swing it’s my job to learn every single role and make sure I go on stage and be able to fill anyone’s shoes at a moment’s notice. I take each day as it comes and work as hard as I can and when an issue arises, I take on the issue and try to solve it as best I can.
I’m not sure I’ve fully found the balance of dance captaining while performing the show eight times a week, but the biggest comfort has been knowing that I’m sharing the responsibility with Ashley. He’s so dedicated to his work and I feel like we are good counters to one another.
What have past choreographers or dance teachers taught you and how do you carry that on to your students or peers?
One of my favorite phrases I’ve heard in class is being strong and wrong. I think it’s really important for performers to give themselves permission to make big choices, even if that means you end up making a big mistake. We can never achieve excellence if we’re scared of even the possibility of failing. I try to carry that with me in my own show and hope that energy takes some of the pressure off my cast mates.
Choreographers and teachers have always told me no matter how talented you are it’s about the person behind the dancer. You have to be present as a person to be able to deliver what the choreographer wants without your ego getting in the way.
What 3 dancers or performers dead or alive would you love to have a dinner party with?
Bob Fosse, Fred Astaire and Judy Garland.
Cyd Charrise, Gwen Verdon, & Chita Rivera.
What has it been like working with Kong and the puppeteers and does it affect how the choreography has been pieced together?
I’ve never been more inspired by a group of artists than seeing what the King’s Company creates onstage every night. Their work raises the level of excellence in our show and I think we as a company work hard to ensure that our contribution matches the magic they’re creating.
With regard to incorporating Kong and the choreography, there were certain moments in the show that couldn’t be created in the studio because we had to see them in real space with all the elements. We were working in uncharted territory, so there was a lot of experimentation in our process.
Working with the puppeteers has brought a new level to the creative experience for me. Being able to watch a team bring an inanimate object to life is quite thrilling. It has inspired me to explore the choreographic language and to challenge myself to tell a story in a new way.
Dance-wise, how have your past experiences or shows prepared you for a beast of a show like King Kong?
Experience is a valuable thing, but King Kong is so unique that I think all of us felt slightly out of our element at one point or another. That said, both Hamilton and Radio City demanded a certain level of work ethic that’s proven incredibly useful as we brought this beast of a show to life and try to maintain it.
What do you love about theatre and working together as dance captains?
I love the family that develops in a theatre. There is truly nothing else like it.
What do you hope audiences take away from ‘King Kong’?
I hope they walk away feeling different from when they walked in. For good or worse being affected by theatre is an amazing experience and can have a great impact on someone’s life.
I hope they leave feeling empowered to lead their lives rooted in love and compassion. We’re telling a heartfelt, sincere story, and I hope that message sticks with people.
What advice do you have for anyone wanting to have a career in dance or performing?
It’s hard work but the determination pays off. What you put in is what you get out. I have travelled to some amazing places and met some amazing people. It’s an amazing life to lead.
Fame Reporter Word Play
Favourite style of dance?
A: Seeing the Northern Lights/Safari in Africa
E: Attend the Olympic Games
Go-to dance move?
A: The splits
E: Stag Leap
Place you want to travel to?
Dream Choreographer to work with?
A: Wayne Mcgregor
E: Wade Robson
A: The Crown
E: The West Wing
A and E: Kangaroos
Favourite song in King Kong?
A: Last of our kind
E: Queen of New York
Finally, favourite thing about theatre?
A: The feeling I get from dancing
Thank-you for joining us at The Fame Reporter. We wish you all the best.
Don’t miss Ashley and Eliza in the breathtaking spectacle – King Kong on Broadway now playing at the Broadway Theatre in New York City.
Get your tickets here
All photos – Supplied