Inspiration March 25, 2017
Stage sensation “Come From Away” owes a large part of its success to Kelly Devine — one of the surprisingly few female choreographers on Broadway.
The hottest show of the spring is not only winning rave reviews and winning big at the box office, it’s also helping to close the gender gap.
“That gap exists for sure,” she tells ENTITY. “There are not many female choreographers on Broadway. I’m in a very male-heavy field. Famous names like Bob Fosse and Jerome Robbins are of a different time when only men choreographed musicals and I don’t know why women are still underrepresented.”
Of the 13 new musicals opening on Broadway this year, Kelly is one of only three female choreographers working on them. She has broken Broadway’s glass ceiling but still feels held to a higher standard as a woman in a man’s world. “I feel I have to be great every time,” explains Kelly.
Her greatest achievement in “Come From Away” may be making the cast of 12 represent the 7,000 characters featured in the story. When American air space was closed on 9/11, 38 planes flying across the Atlantic were ordered to land in Gander, Newfoundland, a small island town off the coast of Canada. For days, the townsfolk helped the 6,579 passengers from around the world find food, shelter and friendship.
Talking of global partnerships, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took Ivanka Trump to the popular show, which was created by David Hein and Irene Sankoff, a Canadian married couple who were in New York during 9/11.
Kelly Devine was a dance teacher in Los Angeles on that fateful day in 2001 and remembers spending 9/11 worrying about the safety of her relatives in New York, especially an uncle who worked in the World Trade Center. Her loved ones were all safe and well but for many New Yorkers and visitors also impacted by the tragedy, this show has had a cathartic effect. “It’s about people’s kindness at a terrible time and I’ve had a lot of audience members tell me they feel a little more healed by it.”
Cast member Sharon Wheatley says, “We all want to think that if something happened that we would be willing to take in a stranger no matter what race, no matter from what country and give them the shirt off our back.”
Kelly got the “Come From Away” job after impressing on other musicals like “Memphis, “Rock of Ages,” “Jersey Boys” and the Broadway musical adaptation of “Rocky.”
She recalls, “That one wasn’t a traditional musical either. But I’m fearless. ‘Rocky’ would have been a joke if it was just a bunch of dancing boxers. I had to find how you make movement with true authentic punches to music and still make it look tough and lethal.”
Her adaptability was forged in childhood. “I started dancing at the age of four and when I became serious about making it my career, my mom said it was competitive and I needed to be able to do everything, so she got me training in everything from ballet to hip hop. That meant I could adapt to any style.
“I started my choreography career at 19 with a fashion show at a shopping mall and progressed to choreographic music videos, commercials, TV shows, films and ultimately Broadway.”
The cast of six men and six women she works with in her current Broadway show had little problem portraying multiple characters but they needed Kelly’s help with the many dance numbers. “They’re a very talented group of actors but dance would not be their first strength so I had to hold a ‘Kelly Boot Camp’ to find what they were good at and expand on that,” she explains.
The choreographer is proud to be part of a show that enlightens and entertains, showing the best of what the arts can do at a time when arts funding is so threatened by the White House.
She says, “The Broadway community is not happy with the current president’s proposed funding cuts to the arts and some other policies. I feel like ‘Come From Away’ has opened up a conversation about how important it is to be kind and accepting of everybody. That’s a message we need now more than ever.”
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