BWW Interviews: Choreographer Spencer Liff Talks HEDWIG, DWTS & New Season of SYTYCD
Spencer Liff joins forces once again with his longtime friend and colleague Neil Patrick Harris choreographing the revival of Broadway's Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which officially opened on April 22nd at the Belasco Theatre.
No stranger to the limelight, Liff has created a name for himself in both the theatrical and televised world. Emmy nominated in 2012 for his work on Fox's So You Think You Can Dance, his recent work includes choreography for the Oscars, Neil's Puppet Dreams, How I Met Your Mother, Dancing with the Stars, Parks and Recreation,and Hairspray. So You Think You Can Dance welcomes him back for the 6th consecutive season this summer.
Today, the multi-talented dancer speaks exclusively to BWW about the uniqueness of choreographing a show like 'Hedwig', his longtime relationship with Neil Patrick Harris and what's ahead for the new season of 'So You Think You Can Dance.'
Why and when did you decide to transition from Broadway dancer to choreographer? Would you ever consider returning to the performance aspect of theater?
I've wanted to be a choreographer since I was a little boy. My first job was with Tommy Tune in The Will Rogers Follies when I was 7 years old. I looked up to him so much and knew that's what I wanted to do with my life. I'd watch the chorus girls dancing from the wings and imagine how I'd choreograph the number.
I enjoyed a fantastic career as a performer, and loved being on stage. After submitting an audition reel, I was hired on SYTYCD as a choreographer at 24 yrs old. That opened a lot of doors for me, and I was happily onto the next chapter of my career. I think if the right show comes along, a big dance show, I'll take another bow on Broadway.
How do you even begin choreographing a unique show like Hedwig?
Hedwig was a lot of research at first. Hours of watching rock videos with Michael Mayer. Making sure I understood what the world was, because we wanted it to feel completely authentic. It was all new to me and I was fascinated. Then Neil and I started at the very beginning, which was walking in heels. We began working 9 months ago in LA. We both put on heels and got some microphones and stands and built a repertoire of moves. "Wouldn't it be awesome to do this?" And a microphone accidentally flies across the room and crashes to the floor "maybe not..." "Hey try this out, that's cool and I've never seen it before".
Rehearsal had that sort of dynamic. We experimented with so many things in previews. I made sure he felt free to express himself and try new moves as the character emerged. It was far less about the steps and all about discovering the physicality of his unique Hedwig. Eventually we honed in on the good stuff and that's what you see now. It was a unique process for a unique show, but I can't imagine doing it another way.
You have a long standing relationship and friendship with Neil Patrick Harris. Where did the two of you
meet and why is the chemistry so great between the two of you?
Neil and I met at the opening night of "Promises, Promises" in NYC four years ago. He came over to introduce himself and said he was a huge fan of SYTYCD and liked my work on the show. There was a dance scene coming up on HIMYM and he asked if I would choreograph it. The number turned out great and he just kept hiring me to do other projects with him. We are both perfectionists and will work until we drop. There was a trust built because we get each other but can also bitch and argue and still be friends when rehearsals over. He's pretty much the best, a super hero in many ways and I'm lucky to have him in my life.
Can you talk a bit about how all the different aspects of a production; lighting, set design, costumes andchoreography are interrelated? Is it difficult to coordinate all these different visions?
The design team was so cohesive on this show and I think it is really apparent in the finished product. Conversations started last year. I wanted Hedwig to be able to climb up the set and swing around on poles, Julian Crouch built that for me. Arianne had all these great quick change ideas that we had to make work without Neil ever leaving the stage. Mike Potter told us all the wigs could be magnetized for quick switch outs during "wig in a box". Kevin Adams, who had lit the very first productions of Hedwig was like a guru on this project. He made everything we all did look better than anyone could have imagined. We all just loved this show so much, there was so much passion in the room. It was never about our individual element, always the whole picture. An amazing boiling pot of creativity.