10 iconic movie-musical dances, according to a Broadway choreographer
If your favorite part of NBC’s dearly departed Smash was the dynamite dancing in the Broadway-style musical numbers, you can thank Joshua Bergasse, the award-winning choreographer behind them.
Bergasse, who’s also choreographed for So You Think You Can Dance, is now the dancemaster behind the new Broadway revival of On the Town, the ballet-tinged musical that opened to rave reviews in New York this October. While choreography for live theater has its differences than the dances you see on film, Bergasse grew up watching the same movie-musicals that are beloved among fans of the genre—films which have even helped inspire him in his stage work.
EW invited Bergasse into the office for a good old-fashioned YouTube spiral, wherein the Emmy winner shared ten of his all-time favorite onscreen movie-musical dance sequences. Some picks are iconic and familiar—who doesn’t love Singin’ in the Rain?—while others could very well send you scrambling to find a copy of your new favorite musical film.
An American in Paris (1951)
Choreographer: Gene Kelly
“I’d say there are five that are the Bible for me, and one would be An American in Paris. You can fill a top 10 list with just this movie. It’s got this big dream ballet, which is fantastic and very innovative, and stuff like the duet ‘Our Love is Here to Stay,’ and ‘I Got Rhythm,’ and ‘Tra La La,’ a great tap moment for Gene Kelly. It’s just one after another. Here’s the ballet—it does the classic dream ballet thing where he dreams the story up until then. At this point, Gene Kelly was choreographing all his own stuff. What I love most is the scale and storytelling of it all. The giant fountain, the fog, the set, the women in white, the Toulouse-Lautrec painting come to life…and look at that lighting! It’s so epic. And it’s all one sequence, but it goes on forever. And I could watch it forever.”
West Side Story (1961)
Choreographer: Jerome Robbins
“One of the things I love most about the West Side Story film is the Prologue because it’s such great storytelling. It spans a period of months, an entire summer building up to this gang owning the street and these moves that say this turf is ours. You really see the story unfold purely through dance. But then there’s also ‘Cool,’ the ‘Dance at the Gym,’ ‘America.’ For me, it’s ‘Cool.’ The choreography from the film is very similar to the stage version, except on stage, Riff sings it. In the film, they felt like it was weird for Action to take control of the gang once Riff died because Action seemed like too much of a hothead, so this character is called Ice.
The dance is so fantastic, and there’s a great solo here. Plus, the girls. I heard it was really hot in this garage from the car lights and the movie lights, so hot that they had to run outside after they were done with each take. I do think this is going to live on forever. I use a lot of this type of dancing in On the Town, just the feel of it and the athleticism. And that iconic move [with the snaps] is called The Sixes, because you count in 12 counts of two sixes. Any choreographer will know that. I did this show onstage a lot, but I would never try to do original choreography to West Side Story. The only time I’ve ever choreographed it, I’ve done the Robbins choreography. I would never attempt. It’s just so iconic. I can’t get the Robbins stuff out of my body.”
The Band Wagon (1953)
Choreographer: Michael Kidd
“’Dancing in the Dark’ is from The Band Wagon, which was a pretty big musical movie that’s right up there with An American in Paris and Singin’ in the Rain, as far as kings of movie-musicals. Cyd Charisse was so stunning, with those long legs and excellent technique. She was such a beautiful ballet dancer. In this dance, they’re falling in love in Central Park, and they’re so wonderfully in sync. They had a lot of time, working on one number for weeks. Nowadays, you don’t get that. I was talking to somebody recently about a musical film and they were talking about doing the whole film in a few weeks. These guys had a few weeks to rehearse just this number. They were such perfectionists, and the studio just gave it to them. What knocks me out is the elegance and how truly together and in sync they are.”
“The last part of the ballet is a great club scene—he plays a detective and he’s looking for the crook. Club scenes are a blast, creating that atmosphere and all these caricatures. The way they walk, the way they dance. It’s so stylized. This stuff inspires me—if I’m doing an upbeat jazzy duet, I’ll think of that.”
Silk Stockings (1957)
Choreographer: Eugene Loring, Hermes Pan
“Meet ‘The Red Blues.’ Those legs! I love the way Cyd Charisse attacks absolutely everything. She’s just as athletic and steered as the men in this, and she’s flying all over the place. She has this great ending too, where she just turns directly to camera. It’s just so fun, right?”
Kiss Me Kate (1953)
Choreographer: Hermes Pan
“Kiss Me Kate is another big one for me. This number is fantastic because it features Ann Miller, Carol Haney, Bobby Van, Tommy Rall…and that’s Bob Fosse. So they do these duets, and there’s Tommy Rall being unbelievable, but then they dance off to this Hermes Pan choreography and it’s the first time Fosse choreographs for film. He guest choreographed his section, with just him and Carol Haney. And it’s the first thing he did for film.”
My Sister Eileen (1955)
Choreographer: Bob Fosse
“So here’s Tommy Rall and Bob Fosse again, doing a duet where they compete against each other. These are Fosse’s steps, but Tommy actually out-dances Fosse. And Fosse acknowledges it! You can see it in his face. It’s hysterical. Tommy was this great Hollywood dancer, and Fosse’s thing early in his career was so vaudeville and fun, very Jack Cole and jazzy. Tommy just killed it. These guys were the masters of [using props with dance]. Fosse mastered that stuff. It comes from his vaudeville background. And actually, he uses the same step from ‘Steam Heat’ from The Pajama Game. He created this around the same time.”
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Choreographer: Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen
“’Good Morning’ is great, I’ve got to say, although I love ‘Singin’ in the Rain,’ ‘Moses Supposes,’ ‘Make ‘Em Laugh.’ It’s hard with this one. But with ‘Good Morning,’ you’ve got such a great song, first off, and I think they have such a great chemistry between them. They look like three best friends, like they’re having so much fun. It’s just totally the opposite of cool. I think this is just musical theatre and musical comedy at its core. It’s so joyous and they don’t have a fear of being silly at all, and by them being silly, we have fun with it. Seeing musical comedy be this successful and silly just gives you the license do to that. I heard that Debbie Reynolds wasn’t a dancer originally so she had to work very hard on this, that they spent months training her. Also, I love trios—they’re so aesthetically pleasing—and these last five seconds. The couch moment is so iconic.”
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
Choreographer: Michael Kidd
“Oh my god, this is just amazing. It’s Michael Kidd, and do you recognize Russ Tamblyn? Riff from West Side Story. What’s great about this dance is that it’s all about showing off, which in turn makes it so fun. Oh, this is just so hard. I have in fact seen this on stage. And it was fantastic.”
Choreographer: Rod Alexander, credit to Agnes de Mille
“The ballet from Carousel is obviously stunning, but I love the clambake. The sheer size of it is impressive, and it’s epic. Here they are, dancing on the roof. The roof! I love choreographing this kind of stuff. It’s so hard nowadays because you never get the cast size. We’re so lucky with On the Town that we have a huge cast, because when you do this, especially regionally, you have like five dancers. It’s so hard to do these long ballets. Nowadays, shows have been so expensive, and the dancers have to sing, too. There can’t be a dancing chorus and a singing chorus. The original On the Town had 60 people because they had two choruses. All the kids today have to sing and dance—but look at these dancers. They were probably some of the best in the country. And the crossover is there, too. It was the same dancers in all these movie-musicals, depending on the time period. They would hire guys who maybe couldn’t do anything else, but were great at doing the butterfly. You just can’t do that today.”
The Royal Wedding (1951)
Choreographer: Nick Castle, Fred Astaire
“There’s a movie that shows how Fred Astaire would film something and then go back in six months later and re-do it, completely identically. That’s how much he rehearsed everything and what a perfectionist he is. Every tiny nuance. This dance is from The Royal Wedding, which has a ton of great numbers. [The big difference between Gene Kelly and Astaire is] Gene was a lot more ballet-based. They were both brilliant tap dancers, both athletic, but Gene’s ballet training came out more in his dancing and choreography. Fred was really known for ballroom, among other things. I think he did this one himself, although he sometimes had people work with him, too.”
BONUS TV SHOW!
Caesar’s Hour (1956)
Choreographer: Jack Cole
“Here’s Chita Rivera and Jack Cole on Sid Caesar’s show. There’s Jack, actually dancing in a number, and it’s classic Cole—a great musical theater piece. Chita tells a really funny story about it, where at one point he forgets the step and just leaves. Jack Cole is really one of the innovators of jazz dance, and he did a lot of movie-musical choreography. He was even Marilyn Monroe’s choreographer. With Chita, this was right before West Side Story. Her kicks, her extensions…they’re unbelievable. And nobody can work a skirt like Chita, too.”
See Bergasse’s choreography in On the Town, playing Broadway’s Lyric Theatre on 42nd Street.