New musical “Gotta Dance” aiming at generational cross-pollination

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Members of the cast of “Gotta Dance,” the new musical set for a pre-Broadway tryout at Chicago’s Bank of America this winter, gathered on the stage of the Broadway Playhouse on Tuesday afternoon. And they offered a very personal peek at what’s in store for audiences when the show plays here Dec. 13, 2015 – Jan. 10, 2016.

The lineup is comprised of an unusually wide mix of familiar show biz veterans (Andre De Shields, Georgia Engel, Stefanie Powers and Lori Tan Chinn), and younger talents who, together, represent not only the full spectrum of generations, but ethnic backgrounds as well. Of course for those who know the source of this musical – the 2008 documentary film directed by Dori Berinstein that chronicled the debut of the New Jersey Nets’ first-ever senior hip-hop dance team of 12 women and one man – this should come as no surprise. And clearly the hope is that the vast demographic of the cast will attract an equally broad audience.

The musical features a book by Chad Beguelin (“Aladdin”) and Bob Martin (“The Drowsy Chaperone”), lyrics by Neil Benjamin (“Legally Blonde”), and music by Matthew Sklar (“Elf”), with additional music by the late Marvin Hamlisch. Directing and choreographing “Gotta Dance” will be Jerry Mitchell, who was in London on Tuesday working on the West End debut of his Broadway hit, “Kinky Boots.” Berinstein has teamed with Chicago-bred Bill Damaschke to produce the show.

Andre De Shields, familiar to Chicago audiences for his work on Broadway (“The Full Monty,” “The Wiz,” “Ain’t Misbehvin'”), as well as at the Goodman Theatre (“The Jungle Book”), plays a 60-plus widower who is hardly a fan of hip-hop and dubs himself “The Prince of Swing.”

Andrre De Shields (center), with Gerogia Engel (far left), Lori Tan Chinn (far right) and other cast members of “Gotta Dance.” (Photo: Hedy Weiss)

Andrre De Shields (center), with Gerogia Engel (far left), Lori Tan Chinn (far right) and other cast members of “Gotta Dance.” (Photo: Hedy Weiss)

Asked about the lessons he has learned during a 47-year-long career he said: “Sustainability and longevity are key to this business, and to life in general. You must re-dream, re-invent and re-create yourself. And I always ask this question: Will the project benefit from my participation? I’ve been blessed to have had the opportunity to originate many roles, rather than follow other actors into them. And along the way my aim has always been to open the doors for others.”

Georgia Engel, who received multiple nominations for her work on such TV shows as “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” recalled her time on Broadway in the original cast of “Hello Dolly!,” noting that neither she nor Carol Channing ever missed a show. And Lori Tan Chinn (most recently seen in Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black”), recalled that decades ago, after a performance in a play, Tennessee Williams came backstage to greet the cast and kissed her hand.

The leggy, ever glamorous Stefanie Powers (known for her roles in such long-running TV series as “Hart to Hart” and “The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.”), talked about surviving two bouts of cancer, but mostly focused on the story of how she had hoped to be a ballet dancer, but grew too tall and shapely. She went on to study jazz dance, and, at the age of 16 (and with as many audition callbacks), she landed a coveted role in the film version of “West Side Story,” only to be told that she would have to be let go because the logistics involved in her being “under age” were too difficult.

And then there was the pair who really tore up the floor: Nancy Ticotin (an original member of Ballet Hispanico, and a member of the casts of  “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway” and “In the Heights,” among many others), and her charismatic partner, Alexander Aguilar. They notably raised the temperature in the room with their steamy older woman/younger man salsa duet.

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