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BWW Interviews: OLIVER! Dance Captain 'Considers Himself' a Ballet Dancer at Heart

Picture it: a young man from Pennsylvania trains in ballet, moves to New York, and then finds success as a musical theatre dancer. It sounds like the stuff of fairy tales, doesn't it? Well, for 22-year-old Michael McIlwee, it was reality. This young dancer from Scranton is currently serving as the dance captain for the Harbor Lights Theatre Company production of Oliver, which runs July 12-28 at Snug Harbor Music Hall in Staten Island, New York. Mr. McIlwee was kind enough to talk with me this week about his passion for dance, his dream roles, and how Harbor Lights' production of Oliver is using dance to tell the story of the Charles Dickens orphan. To find out more about the show and purchase tickets, visit

Where are you from and what have you trained in?

I grew up in Scranton, PA. I moved to New York when I was 18, where I trained in musical theatre at AMDA. Back in Scranton, I trained in ballet but switched to everything (jazz, tap, etc.) while in New York. I consider myself a ballet dancer first, but I like to do all three- singing, dancing, and acting.

Tell me about some roles you've played. Is this your first time as a dance captain?

This isn't my first time being a dance captain; I did Carousel last summer as Dream Billy (in the Dream Ballet sequence) and was dance captain for that show. Nat'l and int'l tours include The Music Man, Phantom of the Opera, and A Chorus Line. Regionally, I've done Carousel, 42nd Street, White Christmas, Hello Dolly, and several productions of The Music Man. I also just finished working on a short film, "Platypus the Musical," featuring Alex Newell from Glee, in Los Angeles.

How are you making dance important in telling the story of Oliver?

I think the story is very well told in the film with Onna White's original choreography; she also did choreography for The Music Man film and the original Broadway production. In Oliver's "Consider Yourself," the people of London are welcoming Oliver to the family, and I think the dancing shows the joy that people had; they didn't have much, but what they had, they'd give. Mimi Quillin, our choreographer, is a former Fosse assistant with several Broadway credits. She was inspired by the film, but also has her own choreography and so is finding a balance between the two. You can do anything with dance to get a story across, and I think the dance numbers are the lighter elements in this dark show. Even in the original Oliver Twist book, Oliver sees so many horrible things but still remains optimistic. We're very lucky to have technology that they didn't have. It was a simple life but they were very happy.

Who or what inspired you to pursue dancing?

My first show ever was seeing Phantom when I was five. It inspired me to play instruments, sing, and act; dancing came last. I was intrigued by ballet after I saw The Nutcracker, and I told my mom, "I think I could do that." I was enrolled in classes and trained really hard. My ballet idol would be Angel Corrella, who danced for the American Ballet Theatre. I am very inspired by him and musical theatre shows in general. It's what I love, and I'm fascinated by any style of dance, but ballet is my true love.

Are there any shows you'd love to do but haven't yet?

Never done Hairspray, would like to do that. Oh boy, this is a hard question...I feel like there's a lot of stuff I'd like to do...I want them to do another revival of the The Music Man because I'd like to play Tommy Djilas, and I'd like to be a Newsie. There's probably more- oh, I know what my dream role is to play Scar in The Lion King when I'm 20 years older.

In your opinion, what's the best dance sequence in musical history?

(Author's note: Mr. McIlwee asked me my favorites first, to which I answered the waiter dance sequence from Hello Dolly and "Who's That Woman" from Follies.) Well, I've done the waiter dance...I actually think something in 42nd Street since it is such an iconic musical theatre dance show. I'd say the opening audition from 42nd Street, not because it's my favorite, but because I think it embodies what we as dancers go through. There's no spectacle- a curtain rises and dancers audition for a show with simple choreography, but the audience enjoys it. It's what musical theatre is about- we're playing our own lives in a show, holding auditions, putting on tap shoes, and that's pretty much it, and the audience is watching what we go through. It's such a fun number to do and I can't help but smile when I do the dance. It's a reminder of why you do what you love and so enjoyable to sit and watch someone do it.

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From This Author Amanda DeLalla

My name is Amanda and the theatre is my passion in life. I am a performer, writer, and student. My favorite shows include Carousel, Show (read more...)