Janet Rothermel - SIDE SHOW'S Respected Choreographer
The voyage of how Janet Rothermel has become an associate choreographer is quite a story. It begins in 1993 when casting director Vinnie Liff convinced Janet to take a job as a "swing" in JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNACOLOR DREAMCOAT. While she was not thrilled about being a swing, Liff knew it was a great place for to start her career.
I first met Janet when the JOSEPH tour traveled to Baltimore. My daughter Britt was a member of Baltimore's Charm City Choir and performed in the 1994 tour of JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNACOLOR DREAMCOAT starring Sam Harris. I knew right away she was someone special. She would later take on the role of Dance Captain on Broadway where she filled in the gap between management and the cast. It was her Broadway debut.
JOSEPH'S choreographer Anthony van Laast knew talent when he saw it. He asked Janet to help with the JOSEPH company in Germany and then the U.S. tours. Their relationship began to prosper and they have now spent twenty years together.
Rothermel was back on the road with the BEAUTY AND THE BEAST national tour.
After taking time off to have her son Hunter in 1999, van Laast told her that he had "a little show you might be interested in looking after." She was flown to Toronto to view MAMMA MIA! In 2001. While being 9 month's pregnant, she auditioned for the Broadway cast of MAMMA MIA!, "belted out a few tunes", and became a swing and dance captain. She recalled how difficult it was to rehearse for the show singing and dancing after the 9/11 tragedy but Director Phyllida Lloyd told the cast it was important to bring happiness to people's lives.
Rothermel was a swing on Broadway for three years. She also was given the responsibility to look after the Vegas company, and the national tour. She then had to remove her dancing hat and stopped performing to concentrate on her new position as Associate Choreographer. She was soon in South America. She commented, "My job was to maintain the integrity Anthony intended for the show but I was given freedom to grow with the show, to change things so nothing became stagnant."
I asked how did the new version of SIDE SHOW came about. She stated, "About a year and a half ago, agent Jack Tantleff hooked up Anthony and Bill Condon. They spent some time together and Bill decided that Anthony should do it. We were looking for a project and this seemed to be the perfect project."
She added, "Anthony and I spent a couple of weeks together in a studio. After hours, there was more time spent on the phone, giving each other ideas. We spent 4-5 days talking and working things out. Ryan Silverman's wife Kim Craven and I spent 4-5 days creating the vocabulary for all the choreography. (Silverman plays Terry Connor in SIDE SHOW and also starred as "Sky" in the first national tour of MAMMA MIA!)
Even before any new music was writtin, Janet stated, "We wanted to see what the girls (the conjoined Hilton Sisters) could do together. What is the best way to express the music that they physically do together..a lot of trial and error. We got videos of the actual sisters to see what kind of movement they did and embellished it. Anthony comes from being a modern dancer while I come from ballet and musical theater and jazz. It's a nice modern combination. He fosters a collaberative partnership. Some music was already written. We sat down with Musical Director Sam Davis and composer Henry Kreiger (DREAMGIRLS) and worked out ideas. We created the dance number "Ready to Play" at the end of Act I. They matched the music to the dance."
It was on May 13 she first met rehearsal pianist Doug Lawler. There was new music to put in after first performing SIDE SHOW at the La Jolla Playhouse. She raved about Lawler's musicality. "He was there all the time. We kept refining things at the Kennedy Center. We wanted to make the best SIDE SHOW."
She complimented Bill Russell (book and lyrics) and Kreeger (composer) for allowing this new version. She commented, "Usually people hold on to what they wrote. Everybody was so supportive."
When I asked her if she knew what led to composer Alan Menken being at the Kennedy Center for opening night, she related that he's a friend of van Laast and that Condon is filming Menken's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.
Rothermel is now back with her family in New Jersey. Soon she will return to Vegas and work on a new company for MAMMA MIA! as well as a new MAMMA MIA! tour and she will be working on a new SISTER ACT tour.
It seems van Laast and Rothermel have fostered a "lasting" relationship. And we are the lucky beneficiaries!