The best Broadway shows look as easy as pie. No matter how much the performers are exerting themselves or how difficult the material is, for the audience, good theater looks effortless. Choreographers, like Lorin Latarro, play a central role in creating this effect by finding the movements that best complements the story, the songs, and the characters. Latarro is doing just that for the new musical Waitress, which opens on Sunday at the Brooks Atkinson Theater. In this interview, Latarro talks about how she’s earned her sweet success.
MC: When did you realize you wanted to be a dancer?
LL: Oh gosh, in like second grade. I always knew I wanted to be a dancer. I have no recollection of ever wanting to do anything else.
Did anyone or anything in particular inspire you to pursue a career dancing?
I lived in New Jersey—I grew up in New Jersey—so my parents took me to see a lot of shows. The King and I was my first show. I saw Moiseyev Dance Company at City Center when I was a little girl. I was hooked.
You studied a Juilliard. What were some big take always from that experience?
I grew up doing mostly jazz and ballet with a little bit of studying Nikolais Louis, which is sort of modernism. But then when I got to Juilliard my freshman year…[I was exposed to] intense postmodernism that absolutely rocked my world. I was absolutely fascinated by all of it. I ended up dancing for Martha Graham for a while, but then I left to go dance with Momix because I just was more interested in that kind of stuff.
That’s the world that I’m pulling from for Waitress, in addition to musical theater. I am pulling from a sort of more modernist world—just a little bit. Not like you would know it if you saw it. That’s where my inspiration is coming from…
What is the difference between looking to get work as a Broadway dancer versus trying to get work choreographing?
What happened to me with dance was that the jobs kept coming very quickly because my skillset as a young dancer worked in my favor. With choreographing it just took a longer time to finally get to Broadway because they wanted experience. You can’t get the experience without experience, so it just took a long time to garner enough experience for a Broadway producer to trust this million dollar—whatever it is, I’m not sure what Waitress costs, however millions of dollars that it is—to trust the choreographer with that kind of responsibility. Here’s how I feel about it: the good news is that though the years working up to this point were hard, I feel confident. Who knows if people will like my work? But I feel confident that I know what I’m doing in the room from the years of experience I’ve had doing it, even though it’s sort of a debut for me. Does that make sense? The blessing in disguise was the amount of time it took for me to get here.
Being a Broadway dancer is obviously more audition based. So what did you do when you were like, “Okay, I want to start choreographing?”
The first thing I did was start saying it out loud. I started assisting everybody that I could. I would do it for free, I would assist, I would associate choreograph, I choreographed benefits for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS every chance I could get. I just tried to practice choreographing. I really had no ego about it. I was like, “Whatever you need, I’m happy to do it. And that’s sort of how it started. I had to shift the way people thought of me. If I came from another place, another country, or if I had had another career somewhere else, in a way, I always wonder what that would be like. Everybody knew me as dancer already, so a lot of directors in New York City I had worked with from being in so many Broadway shows. I had to get them to re-see me—my sister who’s a consultant would say, “Rebrand,” which is a terrible thing [Lorin laughs]. They had to see me as something else, not as a dancer who will jump across the stage.
How did Waitress come about?
I met with Diane [Paulus] a few times after the ART [American Repertory Theater] run had happened and she sent me the music and the script. Honestly, she asked me to put together some movement on its feet for her to see. I had this concept about the pies and how the pies would behave physically in a physical theater kind of language. She went for it and here we are.
What’s it like choreographing to Sara Bareilles’ music.
It’s amazing. The music choreographs itself. My work is half done because she’s so eloquent.
A taste of Lorin’s Waitress choreography from the show’s press day
What should people work on if they aren’t necessarily dancers but need to become a triple-threat for a career in musical theater?
Exercising and being in your body physically. For this show, I not looking for someone who can do a grand jeté with perfect feet. What I do need people to do is have the strength to pick up a women and move across the stage in a smooth way. At one point physicalize being excited and frantic and at another point physicalize feeling in love and like you’re walking on a cloud. So a lot of it is qualitative, not necessarily technique based.
What’s your advice for aspiring dancers and choreographers?
Stay in class. Say yes to everything. ♦