Chet Walker's Impact Remembered by Broadway's Most Influential Dancers and Choreographers

Chet Walker, who passed away earlier this month, is remembered and celebrated by Broadway's dance community.

By: Oct. 31, 2022
Chet Walker's Impact Remembered by Broadway's Most Influential Dancers and Choreographers

There are a ton of people involved with putting on every show you see. And so many of those people inspire other people -- whether the audience knows their names or not. Part of being in this industry is knowing that the lights aren't necessarily going to dim for everyone who had an impact on the artform.

When dancer/choreographer/teacher Chet Walker -- a Fosse dancer who later co-conceived FOSSE and choreographed the 2013 PIPPIN revival -- died on October 21 from a glioblastoma tumor, an obituary was posted, which should be read for his complete credits. However, as it was simply a listing of credits and accomplishments, it couldn't convey the amount of Broadway dancers and choreographers he touched.

In June, when he posted a Go Fund Me page to raise money for his treatment (a different, posthumous one is now open), Walker wrote: "[I]f you can't help I understand. The one thing I do ask of you is that you speak kindly of me, of the time we've spent together and the work we may have done together." BroadwayWorld reached out to some folks to do just that.

"He loved dancers and he believed in things that we could do before we knew we could do them," performer/choreographer/teacher Rachelle Rak told BroadwayWorld. "He knew we could all act and sing and tell the story. What was amazing about Chet was that he would be telling you a story about something and you didn't realize that he was giving you notes or insight to what he wanted you to do or feel."

Lisa Gajda, who retired from the industry after 18 Broadway shows, likewise praised Walker's ability to teach. "He was a real coach," she said. "I believe he was his best self when he was with a dancer, in a process, hoping to make them better or ignite something in them. He was his best self, and brought the best out of other people, when he was in that place of wanting to pass something on."

Walker also worked with some of today's best known Broadway choreographers when they were dancers.

"The thing that I remember about Chet was his undeniable devotion and loyalty for Bob Fosse's work and his incredible sense of respect for the master," Tony-winning choreographer Sergio Trujillo said, recalling his time workshopping FOSSE pre-Broadway. "Chet was really at the helm of making so many of us learn the vocabulary. He was tireless about his insistence on position and the details, making sure that it was taught properly. We respected it so much."

Three-time Tony-winning choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler recalled meeting Walker in his first year in New York City, working with him on a workshop and then getting another call from Walker, this one to do a West Coast 42ND STREET. "I'll never forget being on the phone with him," Blankenbuehler relayed. "The part he wanted me to do had to cover one of the leads who sang to an A. I didn't sing to an A, and I told Chet that in the phone. He immediately responded: 'Good I'm glad you sing an A. You have the job.'"

Next came FOSSE. "Chet and Gwen Verdon were running a Friday afternoon private class to workshop Fosse vocabulary," he explained. "They slowly brought people into that very small group of very lucky dancers. I was invited in one Friday. We learned 'Dancin' Man.' Gwen Verdon took me by the hand to teach me one particular step. In that moment, looking at Chet in the front of the room and Gwen Vernon next to me, I simply couldn't believe that my career had arrived to that place."

Walker eventually chose him for two numbers in FOSSE: Blankenbuehler sang 'Bojangles' as Trujillo and Desmond Richardson danced and he danced Bob Fosse's part in 'From This Moment On.' Blankenbuehler believes 'From This Moment On' (originally from KISS ME, KATE) was the "highlight of [his] performing career." But, more than that, he remembers well working with Walker and his costars on the steps for the show as a whole.

"From moment one, Chet was always so inspirational," Blankenbuehler stated. "He was a force in the studio. An energy. He was like a pied piper, calling people to follow. And we loved being in the studio because he loved dancing. He loved detail. He loved dancers. I'll never forget how blessed I felt to be in that community of dancers. It was a true honor."

Blankenbuehler also spent time with Walker at Jacob's Pillow, where Walker was Director of the Musical Theater Program.

"Those weeks in the barn at Jacob's Pillow are some of the greatest memories I have ever had on the dance floor," he explained. "Total inspiration all around me. Dancers exploding with dedication and love. And that entire program was carried by the wave of passion that was Chet Walker. I choreographed much of the show BANDSTAND on one of those trips to Jacob's Pillow. Like my time with him at 20 years of age, my time with him in the rehearsal studio of FOSSE, the time I was blessed to have at Jacob's Pillow, was a gift given to me by Chet."

"So many of us had our lives changed by Chet," Blankenbuehler added. "I hope we can carry some of his passion and love for dance and dancers into the future in his name."