BWW Interview: Dancer Phillip Attmore Takes the Stage in Broadway's SHUFFLE ALONG
The sparkling new Broadway musical Shuffle Along boasts an all-star cast and one heck of a tap-happy, super talented ensemble. Dancer Phillip Attmore is among those skillful hoofers who tear up the floor nightly at The Music Box Theatre. This guy has charisma to spare and literally bursts out of the chorus performing a rapid-fire succession of rhythm turns that are reminiscent of the dynamic tapping from the old classic movie musicals.
Phillip Attmore grew up in Pasadena, CA and started taking dance classes at three. His siblings, twenty years his senior, were also involved in the arts. Older brother William was one of the Mouseketeers on The New Mickey Mouse Club in the 70's, so it's no surprise that Phillip had an agent at the tender age of four. As a child he appeared in commercials and also landed a part in the film Silent Tongue, which featured Bill Irwin and David Shiner. He was credited as "Boy Tap Dancer."
After graduating from the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts he was immediately cast in a professional production of 42nd Street in Moscow. Soon after the production ended he danced in the world tour of Fosse and followed that up with a stint at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. Fast forward to 2016 where Shuffle Along now marks his fifth Broadway show.
I sat down with Phillip between shows on a Wednesday afternoon. He was still energized from just having finished the matinee. Here's what he had to say:
Congratulations on Shuffle Along garnering 10 Tony Award nominations. What was your first experience with the show?
Thank you, we're all very excited. I first auditioned for the show last year while I was appearing in the revival of On The Twentieth Century. I wasn't able to be a part of the first lab they were doing because of my show schedule. They eventually invited me to join a later lab they were doing in September of 2015. I actually had gotten married in July and I literally came off my honeymoon to start working with them.
Is this your first time working with choreographer Savion Glover? What was the rehearsal process like?
This was my first time working with him and I loved it. I admire the way that he thinks and his different approach to the material. He has a lot of the choreography planned ahead of time but he also creates a lot of it in the room to see what it looks like on us. I like that because it's more of a challenge and you have to be able to pick it up faster. We also get to see his process and how he thinks and understands rhythm. He's both a choreographer and a teacher in the room, which is really a beautiful thing.
Do you collaborate during the choreography process?
During the moments that are clearly a solo he would often give us some freedom. For instance, when he suggested that I do a sequence of turns in "Broadway Blues" he gave me some leeway to highlight my strengths. Also, in the audition scene he told us that this was our moment and to give it all that we've got. He's very generous that way, but the choreography and vision is all his.
Your dance solo in "Till Georgie Took 'Em Away" is terrific! What's it like tap dancing while miming playing the clarinet?
Thank you! When I first learned it I found it very interesting to have my arms taken away from me. I decided that for me it wasn't a dance, but instead a scene. It's the scene that carries the weight of the piece and the steps support it. So when I lost my arms, in the sense that I had to keep the clarinet in my mouth, I decided to use the weight of the clarinet to carry the emotion and tell the story of William Grant Still.
I heard the great news about the company of Shuffle Along having profit sharing participation in the show.
Yes, it feels amazing! We didn't have to fight for that. It felt great to have our producer initiate that conversation. After Hamilton had done this and now Shuffle Along, I believe that it will set a precedent and I'm championing it because I feel it's only right. The artist is working in the room constantly for hours upon hours in a day. Obviously we're not the ones who've written the material or done the arrangements, but we bring a lot to the table. The creatives get to watch us embody what they've only seen in their minds. Hopefully this will become a standard practice that will be long standing for this industry.
How did you react when you found out you were selected as one of "The 10 hottest chorus boys to be opening in Broadway musicals this spring" by TimeOut NY magazine?
I laughed and felt honored at the same time! I think I blushed a little bit too, but it was awesome. Anytime you're honored for something it's a great feeling, so if I'm selected as one of the hottest chorus boys, I gladly accept! When they called, they asked me to send in a picture that showed off my body. Since I don't have any revealing pictures, I just sent them a photo I had from when I was on So You Think You Can Dance. I figured it was a little bit revealing, yet modest at the same time.
Speaking of So You Think You Can Dance, can you share a little bit of your time on the show?
My time on the show was a full experience. It was both a moment of success and a moment of tragedy. I lost my father the same week I learned I was going to be on the show. That whole week was so surreal to me: being in front of the cameras, having a fever, and getting the call from my mom that my dad was dying in the hospital.
That would be tough news for most anyone. How did you carry on given your situation?
I wouldn't wish it on anyone. Though not to sound cliché but that type of experience, that juxtaposition, made me stronger as an artist. I had to be present before cameras, be in rehearsals, learn choreography, and then get in a van to visit my father in the hospital. There were times that I'd be sitting at his bedside and my feet would just start tapping. I was going over the choreography that I literally crammed into my brain just hours before. It was the craziest time yet I only look back at that whole experience with gratitude.
What did your parents think about you taking dance classes at such an early age?
My parents were always supportive of me. When they found out I loved to sing and dance they would drive me forty minutes from our home in Pasadena to my teacher Al Gilbert's studio in West Hollywood. I'd take classes, private lessons, and I'd sit in on other people's classes and watch because I was so hungry. Al always had an open door for me and I was so thankful for that.
Congratulations on your Astaire Award nomination for "Outstanding Male Dancer in a Broadway Show." That must be exciting!
Thank you so much. I'm really honored. I love what the Astaire Awards represent because they honor dancers like no one else in our community. They champion themselves as the only award ceremony to honor just dancers which is a really wonderful thing. Actually there are four cast members from our show that were nominated, and we also got nominated for outstanding ensemble, which is awesome. Oh, and Savion got a nod for best choreographer too!
Is there anything else you'd like to share about Shuffle Along ?
For opening night gifts I got keys for everyone in the company and creative team. To me they represented dreams fulfilled and dreams to build. Who we rub shoulders with play a key role in the dreams that you get to step into. I wanted to thank them all for being able to share this dream of Shuffle Along with me. Especially what we learned about tap dancing. This show has more to do with inheritance than with steps. You hear the stories of people who originated these things that have become known as time steps. So for me this show is much more about legacy than performance. I think that's something that our director George C. Wolfe and the entire creative team have honored beautifully: that sense of inheritance.
You can catch Phillip burn the floor in Shuffle Along at the Music Box Theatre in NYC.