Messenger - Vol. 2, No. 2, Page 18
Winter 1993
Susan Stroman; Lights up a stage

     Susan Stroman loves music. Music sends bright, glittery figures
gliding, boogeying, tap-dancing across a stage in her mind. It's a
professional hazard when you're a Tony Award-winning choreographer.
     As she told an interviewer for the Fairpress: "Music makes my brain
     It's a typical state of mind for this University alumna who, as a
child, often sat under the family piano while her father played show tunes.
She also would tap- dance around her Wilmington, Del., home, throwing props
into the air, leaving marks on the ceiling that her mother had a hard time
explaining to family friends.
     Today, that same little girl is creating dances for actors in the
smash Broadway musical, Crazy For You. The petite, blonde and energetic
Stroman has them dancing on the tops of limousines and corrugated tin
roofs. She has them tossing wash boards and mining picks in the air. She
has them falling in love as they waltz across a Nevada desert.
     Dance Magazine called her "the new choreographer most likely to follow
in-though not imitate-the steps of such hallowed theatre names as Fosse,
Bennett and Tune."
     When Crazy for You opened on Broadway in February of 1992, Frank Rich,
influential theatre critic for The New York Times, credited Stroman, above
all others, in the Crazy for You creative team for reawakening interest in
the American classic, boy-meets-girl musical. He used adjectives like
"ingenious" and "extraordinary" to describe her work and said she is able
to "work magic" on the Broadway stage.
     Last year was indeed a magical year for Stroman. As she told Hillary
Ostlere of Dance Magazine: "In the beginning of February...I woke up
knowing I had three shows running in New York City...all within a
five-block radius of Broadway. I sobbed for half a day because it was
'dreams realized.' "
     Indeed, the little girl from Wilmington, who longingly watched Ginger
Rogers and Fred Astaire's old movies on television, now has a framed
congratulatory letter that Rogers sent her after she won her Tony Award for
Crazy for You.
     Stroman started taking dancing lessons when she was 5, and ever since
she can remember, she's been able to "visualize music." During her high
school and college years, she worked in local theatres like Candlelight
Dinner Theatre and Three Little Bakers. On campus, she was a member of the
Harrington Theatre Arts Company, and Metamorphosis, a dance company.
     While she always knew she wanted to choreograph, she says, "I knew I
couldn't just come to New York and take over. I knew I had to come as a
song-and-dance girl first."
     And that she did-just a year after her 1976 graduation from the
     "I went to New York to audition for the Goodspeed Opera House's
production of Hit The Deck. Out of 300 dancers who auditioned, they picked
me. I got my equity card and was off."
     She danced in and around Broadway for much of the early '80s,
including in a production of Chicago and a tap extravaganza, Whoopee. She
also worked in numerous stock, regional and touring shows.
     "Then one morning seven years ago, I woke up and said, 'You've got to
stop this and go do what you came here to do.'
     "You can't have a split focus in New York. If taking that chance
hadn't worked, I don't know what I'd have done," she says.
     Fortunately, things not only worked out, they worked out well.
     Stroman made her transition from dancer to choreographer in small
steps, starting out choreographing and directing cabaret acts, industrial
shows and commercials.
     "I started to be known as a person in charge," she says. "I wasn't
seen in an actor's light anymore."
     Then came the chance to choreograph a revival of Flora the Red Menace
in an off-Broadway, Greenwich Village hole-in-the-wall that held about 50
people. Stroman thought she'd make about $200 and that no one would see it.
     She was wrong. The audience fairly glittered with stars.
     Broadway producer Harold Prince came, as did Liza Minelli, who was in
the original. Both were suitably impressed and hired Stroman to work for
them. And, during Flora's run, Stroman became friendly with John Kander and
Fred Ebb, the composer-lyricist team who wrote the show as well as Cabaret,
Zorba, Chicago and a host of tunes made famous by the likes of Streisand,
Minelli and Sinatra.
     Prince asked Stroman to choreograph his l989 New York City Opera
production of Don Giovanni. When Minelli needed a tap-dancing choreographer
for Liza-Stepping Out at Radio City Music Hall, Stroman was her choice.
     Early in 1991, Stroman collaborated with the director and book writer
from Flora to create And The World Goes 'Round, a re-staging of 30 Kander
and Ebb songs from nearly a dozen musicals, television shows and film
     Described as "an exuberant, dance-y cabaret show," And The World Goes
'Round played off-Broadway for more than a year. For her choreography of
that show, Stroman won the 1991 Outer Critics Circle Award and the Calloway
     Crazy for You, which won the 1992 Tony Award for best musical and is
still running at the Shubert Theatre, is a choreographer's chance of a
lifetime. Stroman included glitzy numbers featuring chorines in fluffy
pink, a romantic waltz in which the leads fall in love and lively chorus
numbers in which cast members use just about everything that's not nailed
down on the set as props.
     "Because I dance through an emotion, the character in the dance is
very important to me. There is also a strong comic element in my dance. And
The World Goes 'Round was filled with comedy, and I think it is because of
that I got Crazy for You.
     "I do use a lot of props but the props are never extraneous. They are
always an extension of a character.
     "When I choreograph, the dance steps are the last thing I think of.
First, I concentrate on the story behind the song. In Crazy for You, the
dances push the plot forward. The acting blends into the music and the
dance. Once I've developed the music to tell a story, then I can start to
develop the steps."
     When considering a job, Stroman says she first reads the script and
listens to a tape of the show's music. "If I can't connect with the music,
I know I can't be part of it," she says.
     Working with a creative team to develop a show is one of Stroman's
favorite parts of the creative process.
     "I work closely with the director and the musical director, and one of
us is always sacrificing. We have to change keys or make changes to make
the dancer look great. If a dancer tells me he turns better the other way,
then we change it. We feed off of their talents," she says.
     "With Crazy, we worked intensely for seven months before our opening
at the National Theatre in Washington. After that, we worked for another
six weeks, fixing things. It's great to be part of a team, to be able to
ask a set designer to give you a limo that 12 women can pour out of and
have him agree."
     Other Stroman projects in New York have included A Little Night Music
and 110 In The Shade. For television, she co-conceived and choreographed
Carnegie Hall Salutes Stephen Sondheim for PBS's Great Performances; A
Little Night Music (Live from Lincoln Center) and An Evening with the
Boston Pops-A Tribute to Leonard Bernstein. Last fall, she choreographed
Prince's revival of Show Boat in Toronto where she said she froze in the
cold weather, but did get a chance to see a World Series game. She most
recently received the 1992 Dance Educators of America Award for her
dedicated service to the profession.
     The momentum continues with the national touring company of And The
World Goes 'Round, which played at The Playhouse in her hometown this
     And Stroman and Crazy for You director Mike Ockrent have already met
with Universal Studios to discuss their idea for a screenplay tentatively
titled Silhouettes-a romantic comedy about a New York City choreographer
who moves to Montana.
     "It's not a musical but it does involve music and dance," Stroman
said. "Movie audiences will no longer accept musicals on film, but they
will accept a movie about music and dancing, if it's presented in a
realistic manner, like Dirty Dancing."
     A movie? Yes, but her first love will always be the Broadway stage.
     "Crazy for You and And The World Goes 'Round are shows that excited
people in musical theatre, excited them about singing, dancing and acting,"
she says.
     And right at the heart of it, Susan Stroman was one of the most
excited of all. "I guess you could say musical comedy is the light of my
                                   -Beth Thomas