BWW Blog: Sean Patrick Doyle of Paper Mill's GREASE - Astaire Awards
We were proud to not only honor Ms. Birch at this event, but also to showcase the wonderful work of our choreographer, JoAnn Hunter, to a very esteemed crowd. One of the reasons I love our particular production of Grease is that JoAnn put such faith in our motley crew of character actors, and really pushed everyone to their limit. There was no dance call at the appointments and she really had no reason to believe that our cast would be able to do complex partnering or knee spins, but she made it happen! She's also masterfully managed to enhance each character by crafting very individual movement for them in the numbers - of which there are many! Grease is somewhat deceptive in that way; you think it's going to be quite simple to mount, but at closer glance, you realize every brief scene culminates in a production number! JoAnn's superb work is what motivated ALL of my fellow cast mates to skip our first true day off since the start of previews, allowing us to perform the biggest "all-skate" in the show - the iconic Hand Jive.
After rehearsal, we were escorted out to the step-and-repeat to be photographed before the pre-show cocktail hour. It was only after we were absorbed into the crowd, which included Hal Prince, Sandy Duncan, Valerie Harper, Bebe Neuwirth, Sergio Trujillo, Warren Carlyle and all of the snazzily dressed nominees, that I realized how unfortunate our black and white color scheme for the number was. I was mid-conversation with a choreographer friend when a woman handed me her plate of half-eaten hors d'oeuvres! My short-sleeved white shirt, black pants and black bow tie had led her to believe I was catering the event - Sorry ma'am! Facepalm.
Fellow La Cage alum and Grease castmate, Robin de Jesus (that's right, two-time Tony nominee Robin de Jesus is playing Doody! Are you on the train out to Millburn yet?), told me the same thing had happened to him at the Drama Desk awards in 2010! A friend of a friend actually plucked a shrimp off his plate and said "Thank you." Brief pause. "I was planning on eating that shrimp." Cue apologies and an explanation that he was holding his plate like a server. At an event where he was nominated! So, hey, I'm in good company... and I choose to take this as a sign that I too will be nominated for two Tonys. That whole debacle had me laughing. I was also wheezing with laughter when Matt Wood, our hilarious Roger, revealed that the only danceable black pants he owned were his jazz pants from undergrad days at NYU. He was wandering the halls of the Skirball all evening, floating his arms behind him, snapping, holding an imaginary bowler hat, and generally acting like "The Spirit of Bob Fosse." We were so giddy by the time we were called to stage.
The performance went off without a hitch and to our delight and surprise, we were introduced by the one and only Donna "Trick Neck" McKechnie! If you heard someone mix, "Give me a chance to come through!" from behind the scrim - guilty as charged. Our version of Hand Jive is new, and the "basic" step contains hip swivels, jerks and claps. But JoAnn smartly worked in two moments where we pay homage to the original choreography right as the song climaxes! It wasn't very easy to tell if the petite and famously stoic Birch was pleased with our presentation. She ran into a few of us backstage after watching our rehearsal from the front row, and simply asked, "Are you Grease?" "Hi! Yes, we are." "Ok." We think she smiled as she sauntered away? I'm going to say yes, yes she did. After performing, we brushed past Steve Buscemi in the hallway and headed to nearby Panchito's for margaritas. A trip down memory lane for the NYU grads in the cast, and a much needed celebration of the busy week that preceded the evening!
JoAnn Hunter, Morgan Weed, Brad Simmons, Kat Nejat, Tess Soltau, Bobby Conte Thornton, Taylor Louderman, Leela Rothenberg, Eloise Kropp, Sean Patrick Doyle, Eloise Kropp and the cast
Sean Patrick Doyle and Taylor Louderman
Taylor Louderman, Bobby Conte Thornton, Joey Sorge, Brad Simmons, Kat Nejat, Sean Patrick Doyle, Eloise Kropp and the cast of Paper Mill's Grease