BWW Interview: Triple Threat Christopher Tipps on Dancing Through JEROME ROBBINS' BROADWAY
File this one under "local boy makes good," as Houston native Christopher Tipps will act, sing and dance his way across the Hobby Center stage for Theatre Under the Stars' epic, season-closing production of Jerome Robbins' BROADWAY. The triple threat is one of the whooping 47-member cast that will revisit some of the Tony Award-winning choreographer's greatest works, including selections from WEST SIDE STORY, GYPSY, ON THE TOWN, PETER PAN, THE KING AND I and FIDDLER ON THE ROOF.
Today, the former Humphreys School of Musical Theatre student joins us to talk about the pressure in recreating Robbin's iconic pieces, Robbins' familiar choreography, and share a little free advice.
Jerome Robbins' BROADWAY is kind of like a "greatest hits," that includes selections from WEST SIDE STORY, GYPSY, ON THE TOWN, PETER PAN, THE KING AND I and FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. What are you most looking forward to? And knowing just how iconic and popular these pieces are, is there any extra pressure when you go out on stage?
Christopher Tipps: That is so correct! It is literally like a visual album of his best stuff. For me WEST SIDE STORY was something I looked forward to the most. Having been in the production twice as Baby John, I know the material so well so I was excited to revisit it. It was like "coming back home" in a sense.
There is absolutely some pressure with recreating these iconic pieces, but that's what I love about it. It's absolutely worth it to be able to take people back to a time in musical theater that will be forever celebrated, and that laid the foundation for the very Broadway we love now.
This production is going to be on an epic scale - it is, after all, closing Theatre Under The Stars' 50th anniversary season. Not only does it spotlight work from one of the greatest choreographers of all time, there will be 47 performers in the show. What's it like working with such a big group?
Christopher Tipps: One day in rehearsal, I watched one part of the room working on the big dance number "Cool" from the WEST SIDE STORY suite, while another part was working on some choreography from ON THE TOWN, and watched another part of the room work music notes simultaneously, all in perfect harmony without disrupting each other, and I thought to myself how lucky I am to be a part of production that's so big, and so dedicated to the work, this show couldn't have been pulled off without every single hand on deck.
Sarah L. Kaufman in The Washington Post once called Jerome Robbins "the emperor of sidewalks and bar stools, sailors and city folks." Many have commented on just how relatable and familiar his work is, and how it's captivated audiences for decades. What do you see in his work that makes it so special?
Christopher Tipps: To me, Jerome Robbins' work always feels like revisiting a memory you already had. A lot of his work is inspired by everyday moments and emotions. The reason it's so amazing is because no matter the dance background, or not, you can look at a piece like "Scherzo," also from the WEST SIDE STORY suite, and connect to it because it's inspiration came from a memory of him playing on the beach with his dog.
You've had training in so many different styles of dance - ballet, jazz, hip-hop, and tap, to name a few. How does having a varied background help in approaching Robbins' choreography?
Christopher Tipps: Being familiar with so many genres of dance helped because a lot of his work so expertly hits across the spectrum. For instance, ON THE TOWN has such a huge jazz background to it riddled with hints of great balletic moments. WEST SIDE STORY has a hugely recognized Latin/salsa flare that is needed to push the story forward. And then you turn around to HIGH BUTTON SHOES - that is more so about the silent comedy than it is the actual dance technique, but the movement is so precise and specific that I couldn't imagine myself being a non-dancer and being able to pull it off.
You've been dancing since you were a young child, and you've had acting and vocal training. How do you think this range helps you as a performer?
Christopher Tipps: I've learned this industry loves a walking one-stop-shop. Directors love someone who can do it all and give them options of how they want material interpreted and presented to an audience. I'm so thankful for having mentors in this industry that never let me sit in one focus too long without making sure I gave my other disciplines the same love and attention. Still to this day my voice coach will ask when was the last time I've been to a dance class or had an acting lesson.
With this being a TUTS show and knowing that you trained at the Humphreys School of Musical Theatre, I have to ask: How has the Humphreys School prepared you for the reality of working in musical theatre?
Christopher Tipps: I give the Humphreys School full credit on why I made it as a professional. I'm so thankful for the technique they instilled in me, and how much my talent was fine tuned. But also, I appreciated working with real professionals who could tell us about the things in the real world. Audition etiquette, rehearsal expectations, information about joining the stage actors' union - I learned all of these things from being a student. Not too mention I was given opportunities to perform in main stage productions that set me up with a nice resume for when I arrived to New York myself.
And finally, what is the best advice anyone has ever given you?
Christopher Tipps: The best advice that I ever received was this: "Keep going, and when you have a bad audition, don't book the job, aren't fit for the role, and when they tell you no before you get a chance to show them what you have, go even further!" That advice is what's carried me this far, and I'm so thankful that it was passed along to me.
Catch Christopher Tipps in Theater Under the Stars' production of Jerome Robbins' BROADWAY at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. Through June 9. For more information, call 713-558-8887 or visit tuts.com.