BWW Interview: Lori Ann Ferreri talks ADM21 and the Chance to Dance with Donna McKechnie

BWW Interview: Lori Ann Ferreri talks ADM21 and the Chance to Dance with Donna McKechnie

American Dance Machine for the 21st Century (ADM21), founded in 2012 by Nikki Feirt Atkins, will return to New York City's Joyce Theater with a brand new show. Performances begin Monday, December 21st and will run through Sunday, January 3rd.

Directed by Tony Award winner Wayne Cilento (Wicked, Sweet Charity revival, Aida, The Who's Tommy), musical numbers will be staged by a who's who of Broadway's master dancers and choreographers including Donna McKecknie, Robert La Fosse, Pamela Sousa, Gemze de Lappe, Mia Michaels, Niki Harris and many others.

Joining the cast of 22 dancers is Broadway dancer Lori Ann Ferreri (ON THE TOWN revival, WICKED). Lori Ann has the distinction of performing the iconic "The Music and the Mirror" number from A CHORUS LINE. What makes it even more special is that she's being taught the original material by none other than Tony Award winner Donna McKechnie herself.

I had the good fortune to sit in on a rehearsal that Ms. McKechnie was leading for "Turkey Lurkey Time" from PROMISES, PROMISES. Lori Ann will also be performing her role in that head-bopping number as well. It was fascinating watching Ms. McKechnie sharing her knowledge, recreating the steps from 47 years ago. While she is very definitive about the work, she is also very generous and gracious at the same time. At one point she gave Lori Ann a correction about lifting her hip a little higher when doing a specific kick. Lori Ann took the correction and then executed it again to which Ms. McKechine exclaimed, "that's it, YOU can do anything!"

Lori Ann, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today. I'm eager to hear about this year's show. How did you get involved with the production?

It's an incredible experience. Our producer, Nikki Feirt Atkins, had been to see ON THE TOWN and invited several of us to come to the audition. I also worked with our director, Wayne Cilento, a bunch of times performing in his productions of WICKED, AIDA, and a few other small projects. It's really amazing to be in the room with him as well as all of the other legendary people coming in to work with us. It's a true dance history lesson.

How are rehearsals going so far?

Everything is fast and furious. We're learning these epic numbers very quickly so it's a lot of information and we're really testing our stamina. There's so much to process when you're learning these huge production numbers back-to-back.

Wayne brings an old-school approach and work ethic to rehearsals. He creates a very safe and supportive working environment and really respects each of the dancers. Aside from all the amazing things he's done in his career as a dancer and choreographer, he also performed with the original American Dance Machine. So it sort of has come full circle for him and you can see how much he loves working with this material. Plus, the fact that he and Donna were both in the original cast of A CHORUS LINE makes this whole experience very special to me.

Speaking of Donna McKechnie, it must be thrilling for you to work with her on recreating "The Music and the Mirror." What is the rehearsal process like?

It's been mind-blowing! We actually got a head start before we officially started rehearsals. I had four rehearsals with Donna in the studio where she taught me all the material. I also went out on my own to watch videos of her and practiced the choreography by myself.

After I learned the song she started working on building the number layer by layer. Although we're not including the scene that precedes the number, Donna thought it was important for me to learn it. She explained that I had to know where the song and dance came from emotionally, and that I should approach it from an acting standpoint, not just a dance number. After we got the bones of the material out, it's really been more about character work, studying the song and the words, and personalizing it for me.

BWW Interview: Lori Ann Ferreri talks ADM21 and the Chance to Dance with Donna McKechnie
Lori Ann working with Donna McKechnie to perfect the "Cassie" line.

So aside from the wow factor of working with the original Cassie, how did she inspire you?

It's amazing that I'm learning all of this from the original source. In working with her she's divulging her own personal experiences and then I'm connecting to it on my level. It's really her story, but it's a story that translates to all of us. Having her reveal these side stories of Michael Bennett and the process of creating A CHORUS LINE is really an incredible amount of information.

Donna also mentioned that as this number gets passed on and passed on, it changes. The number also changes for each person. Instead of it just being a generic number it really needs to be interpreted by the person doing it. She gave me the choreography and the specific places things needed to happen, but she also gave me room for my interpretation of it. It was very important for both her and Wayne that I was able to personalize it to show how I would express a certain movement or feeling.

What other numbers are you performing in?

I'm doing "Turkey Lurkey Time", another one of Donna's original roles from PROMISES, PROMISES. I'm also performing in the opening number of "Beale Street Blues," "Slap That Bass," "Coffee Break," "Pinball Wizard," and the ballet from "Oklahoma." If I can get through all of those I'll be good to close my show with "The Music and the Mirror."

Well that sounds like a herculean task!

Yes, it's really going to be a marathon, but I love every minute of it.

BWW Interview: Lori Ann Ferreri talks ADM21 and the Chance to Dance with Donna McKechnie
Donna and Lori Ann during a rehearsal break.

I'm sure it's great to be learning all of this legendary original choreography. You really have to be a diverse and solid dancer. Tell me a little about your training.

I grew up in Northern New Jersey and started dancing when I was three. I studied at Dance World Academy under the training of my wonderful teachers, Donna Farinella and Debra Wolter. I studied jazz, tap, ballet and lyrical. Christopher Gattelli, who was also a student at the school, choreographed one of my first solos for a dance competition. Because of my proximity to New York City I would come to the city often and take classes at Broadway Dance Center and Steps. I also took singing and acting classes and landed my first professional job at 16 in the National tour of FOOTLOOSE.

Do you have any pre-show rituals for warming up for a show like this?

The warm-up has all ready started! I don't think I'll cool down until January 4th when the show is over. I think it's the hardest show I've ever done in my life. In general I do a lot of yoga, as it's a nice compliment to my dancing, so I usually take either a yoga or ballet class right before a show. When I get to the theatre I do a vocal warm-up and give myself some meditative time to stop and breathe.

BWW Interview: Lori Ann Ferreri talks ADM21 and the Chance to Dance with Donna McKechnie
Lori Ann Ferreri. Photo by Patrick Struys for the ON THE TOWN Pin-up series. (www.patrickstruys.com)

Is there anything else you'd like to share about your American Dance Machine for the 21st Century experience?

I think it's really important to preserve the material because so much of it is the root of what we do as dancers. My generation didn't have any access to most of this work and it's amazing to be hearing and learning it from the sources. It's a living archive and I feel it's vital to know where you come from and to keep the work active.

I can't even begin to articulate what a thrilling experience it has been to be working with Donna McKechnie. It's amazing to watch her in her element and how generous she is to everyone. Her work ethic has translated to not just me, but to everyone in the cast. This is a real ensemble show and everyone is featured. I'm so excited and proud to be among a cast of true triple threats.

Thank you, Lori Ann. I look forward to seeing the show!

_______

American Dance Machine for the 21st Century plays Tuesdays at 7:30PM, Wednesdays at 3:00PM and 7:30PM; Thursdays at 3PM; Saturdays at 2PM and 8PM and Sundays at 2PM and 7:30PM. Tickets range from $20 - $60. Tickets can be purchased by calling Joyce Charge at 212-242-0800 or by visiting www.joyce.org. The Joyce is located at 175 8th Avenue in New York City.

The cast for this production includes Claire Camp, Chloë Campbell, Rick Faugno, Lori Ann Ferreri, Shonica Gooden, Susie Gorman, Rachel Guest, Tyler Hanes, Nick Kepley, David Paul Kidder , Marty Lawson, Paloma Garcia-Lee, Jess LeProtto, Cathy Lyn, Skye Mattox, Nicholas Palmquist, Georgina Pazcoguin*, Tera-LeePollin, Justin Prescott, Amy Ruggiero, Tommy Scrivens, and Mikey Winslow.

*Courtesy of New York City Ballet

For more about American Dance Machine for the 21st Century, please visit: www.ADM21.org

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