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Interview: Lorin Latarro Talks Creating the Choreography for MRS. DOUBTFIRE, WAITRESS, THE VISITOR & More

Juilliard-trained and a former Broadway dancer herself, Latarro performed in 14 Broadway shows and with renowned dance companies before turning full-time to choreography.

Interview: Lorin Latarro Talks Creating the Choreography for MRS. DOUBTFIRE, WAITRESS, THE VISITOR & More

Lorin Latarro is one of the most sought after, in-demand choreographers on Broadway today. Juilliard-trained and a former Broadway dancer herself, Latarro performed in fourteen Broadway shows including Twyla Tharp's Movin' Out, Fosse, Swing!, Kiss Me Kate, A Chorus Line, and Man Of La Mancha, and with renowned dance companies including the Martha Graham Dance Company and MOMIX, before turning full-time to choreography.

A Drama Desk, Lortel, and Chita Rivera nominee, Latarro's credits list as a choreographer is eye-popping and ever-growing. Her upcoming projects include Mrs. Doubtfire on Broadway, The Visitor at The Public Theater, The Outsiders for The Goodman Theatre, the potentially Broadway-bound Almost Famous, which premiered at The Old Globe in 2019, and more.

Latarro choreographed Broadway and London's Waitress, Les Liasons Dangereuse with Janet McTeer and Liev Schreiber, and Waiting for Godot with Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, plus dozens more.

We spoke with the brilliant Lorin Latarro about her choreographic process, her favorite dance numbers, her incredible career trajectory and more!

Your career is absolutely incredible. Can you tell me a bit about your background and where you studied, and also about making the transition from dancer to choreographer?

I went to Juilliard and I loved it. I was always choreographing, even in high school, and then at Juilliard. I performed with the Martha Graham Dance Company and with MOMIX, and then after a while of touring I wanted to be back in New York full time, so I started auditioning for Broadway shows! It took a while to break into it, but once it happened, one show rolled into the next. I was lucky enough to perform in many Broadway shows, and during that time, I was always assisting, sometimes for free, which I was fine with, helping out or being a fly on the wall or being a dancer in pre-production. And little by little, I just started enjoying the choreographic process more than the performative process.

I started to ask choreographers if they needed assistants or associates, and I was very lucky to assist Kathleen Marshall and Andy Blankenbuehler and Steven Hoggett and Sergio Trujillo. I would say those are the four people I spent some time working under. And then at a certain point I felt like I had enough sense about transitions and collaboration and working with producers and what it takes to be working on a Broadway show, and I started to really just say, "Now I'm going to start choreographing!" You start small, and I was lucky enough to find places like Bucks County Playhouse who helped guide me, and then little by little you garner trust along the way, and I finally started working on Broadway as a choreographer. It took a long time, but all that time was genuinely enjoyable, and I was learning along the way, always, even prior to college, about choreography.

I would love to hear about your process in creating the choreography for a show. How do you approach a new piece? Where do you begin?

I read the script over and over again, and I listen to the music. I actually read the script first, without listening to the music, because I don't want the music to seduce me into a style of dance. What I'm more interested in is finding out the information between the lines and the text of the script, and getting into the psychology of the protagonist and the antagonist and how everybody else might be thinking on stage, and then that will help me figure out how they're going to move. And then I look into the music. For me and my process, the music informs how the show will dance. I'm less interested in putting on a style that is particularly 'the Lorin Latarro style', I'm less interested in putting that on top of any story, it's just not my thing. I'm more interested in finding a unique way of moving for each story, so that each piece of choreography I do moves differently and moves organically inside what the story is trying to say.

How does the process change for you - or does it? - based on what you're choreographing for? If it's a musical versus a play versus an opera, or just a pure dance piece?

That's what makes it so exciting, that's why I love choreographing, because every process is different. So, it depends on the actors in the room. Working on something like Waitress, it moves very differently and minimally than something like Kiss Me, Kate or Mrs. Doubtfire. It depends on what the piece is asking for. In Mrs. Doubtfire we have big dance numbers, and we have a giant tap number, and a big sort of disco jazz number, and it's festive and buoyant. Waitress was introspective, and we had singer-actors who were on stage, not technical, Juilliard-trained dancers, it just wasn't that kind of show, and that's not the story there. So, it's a very different process for different shows. A show like Mrs. Doubtfire, we got into the studio quickly, got our tap shoes on, worked out rhythms, worked out dance breaks, worked out the build of a number, so it was very physical early on. A show like Waitress was more cerebral, I sat there listening to the music, figuring out what this lead character, Jenna, is trying to accomplish while she is baking, what she really wants, why she's avoidant. It was a much more psychological assignment.

I want to ask you about choreographing for The Visitor, which was scheduled to premiere at The Public in April 2020. What was it like working on that production?

It was wonderful. Daniel Sullivan is such a wonderful director. Both he and Jerry Zaks, I feel so lucky to have been working with them last year when this all happened. And Tom Kitt's music is just hauntingly beautiful in The Visitor, and the cast is extraordinary. The Visitor is cool! I'm really excited for people to see this show, it's so poignant. There are a lot of internalized moments in the show where David Hyde Pierce, our lead character, is almost unable to express himself until he can really express himself through learning how to play the drums. And that gift is given to him by the character played by Ari'el Stachel, who he meets by happenstance.

What is it like to choreograph an ensemble around a person who is static and who really is stuck in the loss of his wife? That was an interesting assignment. And yet, there are other moments in the show where these men and women who are put in these detainment facilities in America... the anger and the frustration and the sense of wanting to break out of, essentially, jails. That was fun to choregraph, that kind of thing, it's aggressive and very, very physical. But, again, attached to the story.

Prior to the Broadway shutdown, a large majority of shows that had recently premiered on Broadway, or were about to premiere, were choreographed by women. How does it feel for you to be one of the most sought after and successful choreographers out there, and also to be a part of this wave of shows that have been choreographed by women?

I feel very grateful to be part of this community in general. I feel very grateful to every single person who took the time to teach me, who took the time to have me in the room so I could learn. I feel very grateful. A deep sense of gratitude.

Do you have one number in your mind that you are most proud of, a quote-unquote 'favorite' number where you are just really proud of how it turned out?

There's a number in Mrs. Doubtfire called 'Easy Peasy', and it's a really fun number set in a kitchen, and we just turn the kitchen on its head, and it's a big tap number. I'm very excited for the audience to see it, I think it's really fun and buoyant, and it really builds into a big tap break that I think is exciting. So, that's one number in Mrs. Doubtfire I'm excited about, for sure.

Do you have any performer that when you got into the room with them, they really surprised you as a dancer? Does anyone stand out?

There are so many people! Rob McClure, for example, is a phenomenal dancer. So, this guy is an incredible actor, an incredible singer, an incredible comedian, he also does some magic, and then he can dance and tap dance! And if he couldn't get it right away, he would go home and practice and come back the next day and have it. He was such a hard worker. So, Rob McClure blows me away. I'm very excited for people to see him in Mrs. Doubtfire, Rob is extraordinary. That was really inspiring.

And then sometimes, just to witness actors who are not phenomenal dancers, but to see how they connect to movement, I find it fascinating to watch actors experience movement. I think it's a really beautiful thing. And I love dancers. Dancers are unicorns, so every single dancer that's in my room... I really dig uniqueness on stage. I am not into everybody looking the same, everybody being the same height, strict Rockette unity, that is not what I'm into at all. I love texture on stage. So, everybody moving in a more individualistic way even though they're all doing the same dance step I think makes the show pop more. I mean, of course I like things clean, but if they're too clean for me, I find it a little benign.

Do you have any final thoughts? Anything you would like to share, pieces of advice for dancers at this time?

My heart goes out to every dancer, and I just see on my Instagram and Facebook how hard dancers are working to maintain their technique and their bodies in this moment. A dancer's performing career is shorter than most other people's careers, so my heart goes out to everybody. Just, stay in shape, it helps everybody's mental status too to keep exercising. And I can't wait to be back in a room together. I think that the absence of touch makes people sad. When we're able to touch each other, and hold each other's hand and be close to each other and hug and partner dance, I think collectively we will all start to feel better and heal in this moment.

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