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Jared Grimes puts a spin on the classic ’42nd Street’

Jared Grimes. Photo by Kat Hennessy.
Jared Grimes. Photo by Kat Hennessy.

In a recent video that has been widely shared on social media, Jared Grimes shows off his tap dancing skills after a long day of auditions — tap dancing in roller blades, that is! Aside from this incredible video, Grimes has certainly made his mark on the dance world. A few of his many, many credits include touring with Mariah Carey, starring in The New York Spring Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall, dancing in ads for Coca-Cola, Subway and MTV, and teaching both hip hop and tap classes at Broadway Dance Center. Next up, Grimes hopes to put his own spin on the classic musical, 42nd Street, at the Drury Lane Theatre near Chicago, IL.     

What is your connection to 42nd Street

“I think the closest I’ve ever come to the show is working with Randy Skinner (who served as dance assistant to choreographer, Gower Champion, for the original Broadway production in 1980, and then choreographed the 2001 revival of the musical). Randy gave me my first job as a professional dancer, in a production of Babes in Arms at Goodspeed Opera House. I was just 18 years old, and it was my first year in New York City. I was a communications major in college, and all the theater kids were shocked (and a bit jealous)! It was an honor to work with Randy Skinner, who is such a big name in the musical theater world. That was the first real relationship I had built with a professional Broadway choreographer. Without Randy, I don’t think I’d be where I am today. 

42nd Street is a tap dancer’s dream. And as a choreographer, to be able to work on a new version of the classic musical is really cool. My friends and I would always brainstorm, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to transform 42nd Street into 142nd Street?’ To update the show for contemporary audiences of all demographics. And now, I’m doing just that!”

The casting calls asked for auditioning performers to prepare an R&B/contemporary musical theater song. Is this going to be a new, contemporary 42nd Street that we haven’t seen before? What elements are you and the creative team looking to explore or update?

Jared Grimes. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor.

Jared Grimes. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor.

“My biggest obligation is to uphold the integrity of the show. I would say we’re just putting a little seasoning — a little spice — on the beloved classic. It’s like comparing the elegance of Fred Astaire to that of the Nicholas Brothers or Gene Kelly. All three are ‘classic’ but in different ways. Astaire approached tap dancing from a ballroom perspective, whereas the Nicholas Brothers so emphasized rhythm, and then Gene Kelly brought a more rugged, edgy style to the Hollywood screen. So, if I were to associate the original production of 42nd Street to Fred Astaire, our version is going to be more of a Nicholas Brothers/Gene Kelly version, if that makes sense.   

In the audition process, we asked dancers to sing an R&B or contemporary musical theater cut. The score of the show is the same, but we’re exploring how singing it in a more modern fashion will resonate with new audiences. Even with the acting, the intention behind the characters’ choices is, what I would consider, more real and true to how dancers (especially atypical musical theater dancers, like myself) experience auditioning today. So, in short, the bones of 42nd Street are the same; we’re just adding some flavor.”

Do you draw upon previous choreographers’ work for inspiration? What is your creative process like?

“The first thing I did was look at the old footage — actually so that I wouldn’t draw upon that movement in this new version. I wanted to make sure the choreography was completely different from what’s already been done. In terms of getting inspired when I choreograph, I listen to the music over and over until I feel like I ‘hit’ the sweet spot where the movement and the music just work. I try to blend contemporary movement with that classic MGM style so that people in the audience feel like they recognize certain steps from music videos they’ve seen or social dances they know. It’s exciting to let the audience connect the dots and realize the evolution of dance.”

What qualities did you look for when casting the show? What are your hopes for the production?

“There’s certainly a hope that the show will transfer to other theaters and reach even greater audiences.  I think it was sort of sad that the original show seemed to speak to only one specific audience demographic. In this production, our creative team is not trying to do what The Wiz did to The Wizard of Oz — create the ‘African-American’ version of the musical. But we did practice blind casting — focusing on actors who are right for the show based solely on talent, not ethnicity. All the dancers are such technical and virtuosic musicians. It’s really exciting.”

42nd Street plays at the Drury Lane Theatre October 26, 2017-January 7, 2018. For tickets and more information, visit www.drurylanetheatre.com.

By Mary Callahan of Dance Informa. 

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