Every person’s heart beats with their own personal rhythm. David Connolly felt that rhythm, and he listened. He listened to his body speak, and he moved with a kind of joyous celebration of the gift he was given. As a choreographer, David teaches others to listen to their bodies and find that same magic.
David is a Toronto-based choreographer whose work in television, film, and theater has been seen by audiences around the world. For twelve years, he choreographed Toronto’s Fashion Cares AIDS fundraising show. He has created production numbers for Sarah Brightman, Jennifer Holiday, Katy Perry and k.d. lang. David was the recipient of The Premier of Ontario’s Award of Excellence in the field of Applied Arts from the Canada Council of Regents. He made his Broadway debut at age 19 in the revival of the musical Shenandoah shortly after graduating from the acclaimed Music Theatre Performance Program at Sheridan College, in Toronto. He also shares his creative ideas and knowledge as an educator, Adjudicator and Master Class Clinician.
After many years of producing terrific work in many genres, what does it mean to you to have this opportunity to work on a show headed for Broadway?
David: It’s thrilling beyond words. There is only one Broadway. It’s a magical place. To have the opportunity to collaborate on a story that might be told to that audience is a dream come true.
You have choreographed music videos, television, and even the Miss America pageant—but I understand theater holds a special place in your heart. What is it about theater that touches you?
David: Nothing can compare to the immediate response and intimacy of a live audience. Even though people think it is the same show every night, it isn’t because the character of the audience changes every single show. To me, that is the exciting part of the craft—how to gauge that audience and include them in your process. The immediate affirmation is wonderful too. You have people clapping for your efforts right there in the room as opposed to film or television or a music video where the accolades come in different ways.
What role does choreography play in a big musical?
David: Choreography includes a very wide spectrum of movement–from what people would traditionally consider dancing to simple things like body language–how someone is sitting on a chair, or how someone reacts physically to news they get in a scene. Choreography is anything that moves, even sets or pieces of furniture. How those things come and go is all choreography. I think body language is extraordinarily important. Non-verbal communication tells as much of the story sometimes as verbal communication.
Big production numbers serve different purposes in a musical. Sometimes they further the plot, sometimes they exist solely for the purpose of raising the energy level. It is so widely varied what the purpose of choreography in a musical is, but I think that song and dance only work when they are cohesive and story driven. The movement has to come out of what the characters are going through.
I had no idea that choreography encompassed all of those movements.
David: If you sit in a train station or mall and watch people walk by, you can tell immediately how they are feeling. You can tell so much about a person’s life by watching them simply walk across a parking lot, so the same applies to characters on stage. That is where it starts–figuring out how those people walk and stand and sit and before they dance.
What have been some of the challenges in First Wives Club for you so far?
David: I have to say there has been nothing I would call a challenge. There have been opportunities to stretch our imaginations, there have been opportunities to stretch what’s possible, but a challenge to me sounds negative.
The people working on this production are just too extraordinary for me to consider anything to be negative. They are brilliant. When there are changes, they are made in the best interest of the story.
Is it fun choreographing to Holland-Dozier-Holland music?
David: My first day of the Toronto workshop, which was when I joined the team, I was handed the music to Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch and told to please choreograph it. “See what you can do.” I was introduced to the Holland brothers, who were in the room. To just wrap your head around the fact that you were about to come up with dance steps to a song that has been in your brain and your body and your heart for your whole life with the writers sitting in the room was thrilling and terrifying. They were, as they always are, very kind and generous with what we came up with. They are extraordinary! They’re not just prolific pop writers. Their music is what I consider to be a part of history, so to be able to work with these history makers is really fulfilling.
Why do you think their music is so timeless?
David: They tell stories in their music, and every person of every age can relate to those stories. They are simple stories that you hear and relate to, and I think that is what makes a song resonant and timeless. Does a teenager today feel the same way that a teenager did in 1967? The answer is yes, at a core level they do. A song like Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch just gets in your blood, and you can never get it out.
You are a Canadian, who has done a lot of work in your country, and you are working with the director Simon Phillips from Australia. Many of the cast and crew are American. Do you find that there are regional differences in artistic tastes?
David: No, I think that storytelling is universal. Our creative team is international, but we all have the same goal, which is how do we tell this story in the clearest way possible so that our audience will feel as deeply as possible. That is what it is about. How do they feel? Not what do they think, or what do they hear, or what do they see, but how do they feel?
Can you tell us about the three main characters, Elise, Brenda and Annie and your thoughts about them?
David: I think the characters have a universal appeal and represent people who we know or are. If you choose not to see yourself in these women, they are certainly in your family. They are an aunt or a sister or a teacher–someone that you can absolutely identify with. I think we all have parts of those women inside us, male or female. They are people who discover that they can’t achieve their goals alone, which is a really important part of the story. All of us need help, and when we stop and ask for it, good things happen.
That’s why the movie was so special. Whether in a movie or on the stage or in a book, if you can see part of your life reflected in the story, then you will gravitate to it more strongly.
Did I hear there may be a couple of dance moves that audiences can take with them from the “Shoulder to Shoulder” anthem, and do you think they could find their way onto YouTube with girlfriends having fun–like Pharrell Williams “Happy” did?
David: I would say yes, that is our goal!
Who are your inspirations in the field of dance and choreography?
David: If I start a list, I feel like I will never end it. I was six or seven when I put on my first show in the backyard, in our tool shed. I put out lawn chairs and charged admission. I was choreographing when I was seven, and my influences since then have never stopped. I am continually inspired by anyone that moves their body to help tell a story. Television was my first introduction to that form of entertainment, so I remember watching dancers on the Carol Burnett Show and Donny and Marie and Sonny and Cher, variety shows like that. Then I was introduced to movie musicals like Mary Poppins, and watching Dick Van Dyke dance on the chimney tops. I eventually found Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly and Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse all masters so I guess my order was first through television and film, then I finally saw a production of A Chorus Line and I was hooked on live theater.
I have always believed if you are lucky to find what you consider to be your calling that no obstacle can prevent you from achieving that. I am extraordinarily grateful to be one of the lucky people who gets to really do what he loves and make a difference in a way that I even hesitate to call it work. Everyone needs to make a living, but I get to make a living doing something that I feel is absolutely in the center of what I was put on the planet to do.
Where do you think your art form is going in the future?
David: Every single project is different. Every medium requires a different part of my skill set, but at the end of the day, what is consistently required is figuring out what serves the story. What is the story we are telling, and what serves the story best? Sometimes less is more. Sometimes something really subtle supports that storytelling more than something that is really overt. That is where I hope the future of what I do lies. Whatever the story is, whatever the medium is, I can collaborate with brilliant people like those involved with First Wives, to have the audience clearly follow along and feel different after the experience.
Do you think the show will appeal to both men and women?
David: Of the men I know who have seen the workshops, yes. They’ve seemed surprised to actually like it as much as they do because it is about communication. We could all benefit from stronger communication in our lives.
It’s also about so many things, like love and loss.
David: Yes, and the power of friendship and teamwork allowing you to access the resilience you need to bounce back from those losses. We all face losses and sometimes we need a hand from our friends to help us get back on track, and that is what these women do for each other.
That is part of what I am so excited about for this show. The storytelling is going to be so clear that the audience will be able to look at it from whatever perspective they need. Everyone will come out a winner because there are so many opportunities to hear the message that you need to hear.
Thank you David, for your positive spirit and for sharing your thoughts about bringing First Wives Club to the stage.
Get YOUR TICKETS here!
Playing at Chicago’s Oriental Theater
Previews: February 17th – March 10th
Premiere date: March 11, 2015
Chicago run: thru March 29th