• An Indescribable Rush: Leslie Stifelman on Taking the Stage with Broadway Stars

    You may recognize Leslie Stifelman as the award-winning music director and conductor of Chicago: The Musical, or perhaps you are familiar with her involvement in many of Carnegie Hall’s choir projects and student workshops on Musical Exchange. But for the second time this season, Leslie serves as the artistic director and conductor of our interactive Broadway-themed Community Sing event!

    Joined by a talented Broadway cast, Broadway band, and PACE University dance students, Leslie presents “Take the Stage: Sing and Dance with Broadway Stars” on April 28. Its an interactive experience where the audience has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sing and dance with Broadway performers. We sat down with Leslie to talk about her experience putting the show together, her favorite Broadway tunes, what it means to combine the elements of music and dance, and the concert surprises she has in store.
     
    Check out Musical Exchange’s theater group to see more online videos led by Leslie or to discuss Broadway theater singing.


    Our upcoming Community Sing concert in April introduces a new twist: dance. Can you talk about the importance of dance in musical theater and what you hope the audience will learn from this experience?

    Leslie Stifelman: I don’t think one can separate the integral elements of musical theater—singing, dancing, acting—from each other. The arch of the stories in musicals can’t be fulfilled without that transformation from the spoken word to the sung phrase and the choreographed expression of the emotional life of the characters. Great musicals have an effortless interplay of these technical elements, so taking one away from another is like losing an arm or a leg. By adding all the elements of these great production numbers together for this participatory event, the audience experiences the unbelievable joy and fulfillment when it all comes together onstage. Honestly, it’s a rush that can’t quite be described.


    The lively atmosphere of our recent Broadway-themed Community Sing.

    With so many amazing Broadway hits in the world, how did you choose the program for this concert?

    LS: We chose songs that allow everyone involved to explore unchartered parts of their own creativity successfully. Once we knew that, the list of songs just came pouring out. Then of course, we had to think in a more practical sense about how much room we have for people to sing and dance! On a personal note, the repertoire includes many of my favorites from shows I have done or hope to do: Pajama Game was my first show in ninth grade, and of course I will always dream of conducting A Chorus Line.

    Among songs from Grease, The Pajama Game, and Hairspray, the audience will also sing and dance a tune from Chicago: The Musical, for which you are music director and conductor. How do you expect your familiarity with Chicago to translate in the Community Sing context?

    LS: I can’t tell you what an honor it is to be the musical director and conductor of Chicago: The Musical, which is now the longest running American musical of all time. Over the past 17 years and many thousands of performances, the excitement of teaching and performing the score—no matter what the context—is never lost on me. No matter where I am in the world, when the music of “All that Jazz” is played, the crowd leaps to its feet. I’m especially excited for this concert because I have not only been able to bring many Chicago alums—Melissa Rae Mahon, Ryan Worsing, and Robyn Hurder—with me, but we will all be accompanied by the best band in the world: my musicians from the Chicago Broadway orchestra.


    Community Sing events encourage interaction between the audience and the performers

    Tell us a little about the diverse cast of Broadway stars in this show.

    LS: The cast we have put together is made up of what we call in the business the best gypsies of the Broadway community. To me this expresses the enormous depth of talent and experience on the stage. Melissa Rae Mahon, our phenomenal choreographer and director, is one of the only performers in the world to play all of the female roles in Chicago. Jessica Lea Patty was seen on Broadway last year as Evita. Robyn Hurder is currently starring on Broadway in Nice Work If You Can Get It. Our entire cast has similar resumes so I know that when it all comes together there will be plenty of fireworks. Also, I can’t say enough about how generous Broadway performers are. Our audience will have the unique opportunity to feel like they are a part of a Broadway family.

    You’ve invited 15 students from PACE University’s Commercial Dance program to participate in this event, of which three of them are lifecasting their experience in the Musical Theater group on Musical Exchange. What do you think they’ll bring to the show?

    LS: I am so proud to have joined the faculty at PACE University as adjunct professor this year. These are my students who I’ve been getting to know and love over the past semester—they are amazingly talented and this is an enormous professional opportunity for them. They are on hand to help and encourage our audience as they are learning the music and choreography, but more importantly they will really be learning the same lesson as the audience: how to put all the artistic elements of musical theater together. I’m really excited to see all these different levels of mentorship blossom.


    Feel like a part of the Broadway family when you attend April 28's Community Sing event.

    Will this finally be the time for us to see the great Leslie Stifelman dance on stage? Are there any surprises in store?

    LS: You know, I consider myself a terrible social dancer, but anyone who has ever seen me perform on the podium at Chicago or other places knows I’m not one to stand still. The great Ann Reinking, Chicago’s Tony Award–winning choreographer who I had the thrill of working with, always encouraged me to help the dancers connect the dots between the dance and the music. I’m definitely not shy, so I think the audience can expect something from me onstage. It may not be as elegant as my fellow company members, but I’ll be very willing to learn along with everyone else.

    Photos by Richard Termine.

     


    Related Content:
    Take the Stage: Sing and Dance with Broadway Stars, April 28
    Neighborhood Concerts

     

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