Cagney Showstoppers Robert Creighton & Jeremy Benton Break Down Their Insane Tap Duo
July 5th, 2016
by Robert Creighton & Jeremy Benton
If you love an amazing, jaw-dropping tap dance, run over to off-Broadway's Westside Theatre to see Robert Creighton and Jeremy Benton as James Cagney and Bob Hope, respectively, in the exuberant new musical Cagney. When the two characters come together for their dance duet, it's a theatrical moment that will stay with you for years to come.
BroadwayBox caught up with the dynamic duo to talk about their Cagney showstopper, inspiring movie musicals, and wearing multiple hats on one small show.
My first impression of my co-star:
It was a long time ago now cause we did this show together the first time at Riverside Theatre in 2010. But I seem to recall – “TALL! How are we going to look dancing side by side?” But he was the best triple threat you could dream up so he won the part and I’ve never given that another thought.
My first impression of Bobby was, "Gee, this guy is just loaded with talent." When we were working on the show out-of-town, I just remember being so impressed by his drive, his vision for the show, and the amount of energy he had to put forward into crafting the story.
The first time Josh Bergasse showed us the dance duel, I thought:
“This is classic! Right out of the movies." It is Cagney and Hope and the Seven Little Foys, of course, but it is also—Singin’ In The Rain, Take Me Out To The Ball Game, Summer Stock —the Gene Kelly tap duets I grew up on and wore out that made me want to tap dance! (2nd thought: Better get to the gym!)
"I am a lucky guy." I also thought "I better stop by CVS and pick up a few more ice packs". Ha! But seriously, I remember working with Josh and Bobby on this number, collaborating and trading steps back-and-forth... Working with Bergasse has been a real joy. He can craft a number that tells a story while delivering all the punch and dynamic from the old movie musicals that we all hold near and dear to our heart.
Now, before we perform that moment in the show, I think:
We both love sounding like literally one dancer in this number—it’s a rush — and so I think:
“CAN’T WAIT! LET’S DO IT!” Mixed with an ever so slight “This is gonna hurt.”
"Breathe and enjoy this, Jeremy." And I always do. Bobby and I both say that if either of us has had a rocky show, our tap duet seems to erase any little gremlins that haunted us so far. It really is something to savor, because you don't always get such pure tap dancing moments in a musical. Especially in the kind of context that he and I get to do it in Cagney.
My first memory of being truly affected by a tap dance:
For sure that would have been something in a Fred Astaire movie, because, by 5 years old, my neighbors were putting on Glen Miller in their living room every week after church and I was putting on a hat and cane and dancing around pretending I was “Fred.” (PS. Wanted to learn to dance but was too busy playing hockey and didn’t learn a tap step for real until I was 19. Then I went nuts on it for a while.)
I remember being about five or six years old, thinking I had invented tap dance in my yard back in Tennessee. My grandmother sat me down in front of a movie musical marathon one Sunday morning and Singin’ in the Rain came on. I remember watching “Moses Supposes” and being absolutely glued to the television. What Donald O'Connor and Gene Kelly were doing on that screen just seemed humanly impossible, and I was obsessed with those wonderfully noisy shoes, ha! I swear, during our tap duel, I sometimes get the feeling that six-year-old me got watching “Moses Supposes.”
Offstage, we bond over:
Tempos. Comedy doctoring, if you know what I mean— he’s so smart about that stuff. Also, he’s a political junkie and I don’t know nearly enough about that, but would like to, and so he gives great updates.
Mel Torme, Kentucky bourbon, and old school comedy.
Ultimate tap dance number from movie-musical history:
That’s tough. I gotta put Yankee Doodle Dandy on here of course, and I ADORE it, but the Nicholas Bros jumping over each other and off of things into the splits etc is hard to beat, but how do you ignore “Moses Supposes” for pure entertainment (I’ve watched it more than any over the years probably) and then Fred and Ginger could be up there with 20 of them. Don’t get me started!
Well I have already mentioned “Moses Supposes”, which is right up there with one of the most iconic tap duets of all time. But, if you've never seen the Nicholas Brothers in Stormy Weather, then you should immediately get on YouTube and watch it right now. It is jaw-droppingly incredible. But then there is Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell's "Begin the Beguine", probably one of the best tap numbers ever put on film.
I’m in awe of his ability to:
A. Never miss a sound! B. Manage the hats he has worn through this Cagney process as actor, dance captain, associate choreographer—which really in our show because of the way it was built is really an assistant director! Nobody can steal this word ‘cause Jeremy made it up but he calls it “choreACTraphy.” That’s good huh?!
Wear so many hats all at once while he never lets us see him sweat. Not only is he carrying our show as one of the most iconic and memorable film actors of all time, but he's also co-composer, has had the vision to keep this show of his alive through the years, and oh by the way, is a fantastic dad and husband to his wife, Whitney, and their two adorable kids. Talk about a multitasker.
If I had to describe my co-star in a song, it would be:
Well I know “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” is his anthem so I’ll go with that. He is uniquely wonderful at what he does and so I would add to that title— one of the best things about being in this show… happens while you’re dancing with JB!
Ha, this is a tough question. But I look at Bobby now, and I can't help but think of the song "I've Got the World on a String" by Harold Arlen. I think he might agree with me on that one ;)
Get yourself to the Westside Theatre to see Robert Creighton & Jeremy Benton tap their feet off in 'Cagney'.