JoAnn M Hunter danced in the ensemble of the biggest Broadway musicals of the ‘90s (Guys & Dolls, Chicago, Miss Saigon, How to Succeed, Damn Yankees, Kiss Me, Kate) before transitioning to a choreographer, whose credits include School of Rock, Disaster!, On a Clear Day, and Curtains. This summer, JoAnn choreographed the all-new West End production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoatplaying at The London Palladium. The strictly limited summer engagement stars Sheridan Smith as the Narrator, Jason Donovan as the Pharaoh, and newcomer Jac Yarrow as Joseph. It’s been 25 years since we’ve seen the early Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice musical on this side of the Atlantic, so Broadway is hungry for some Joseph.
BroadwayBox caught up with JoAnn to discuss working with Lloyd Webber, treating Joseph like a new musical, and making the leap from dancer to choreographer after an injury derailed her career.
1. What excites you most about this new production of Joseph?
It is funny but I really did not know the show at all. I personally prefer this. I want to always approach a project as a brand-new piece without any preconceived notions. The music is, of course, wonderful, tuneful, and joyful. There are certain songs that have a pastiche quality to them and that allows me such freedom and diversity when creating. Andrew has also allowed me to bring in my own dance arranger, Sam Davis. We had a blast creating music for Joseph. Holding our breaths, we presented the new dance arrangements to Andrew, and he loved them. He has been so supportive in allowing us to rethink a very well-oiled machine.
2. What moment challenged you most as a choreographer and how did you overcome it?
Oh dear, what moment…. I think I may have had a few. I was teching a new show and the opening of Act II was just not working. It was a big production number and I remember having trouble making it work. I usually find if I am having a hard time staging something, it is because dramaturgically I cannot find the thread that connects the dots. I called the director after rehearsal and said I think we should cut the number. Yes, the big production number, I thought should go. He agreed and we did. And it was for the better of show. Sometimes you have to put your own ego aside to make the whole better. The bottom line is the piece. If all the individual pieces do not line up, then you have to re-arrange or leave out some in order for it all to come together.
3. You choreographed ALW’s School of Rock and now Joseph. How do you work with Andrew Lloyd Webber and the Really Useful Group? What’s unique about that collaboration?
Andrew and Really Useful have been wonderful to me. I am grateful for the collaboration with ALW and the fact that he and RUG trust me with their work. ALW is actually very approachable and he will listen. He is incredibly knowledgeable about musical theatre, as you can imagine. I get to learn from his work. How lucky is that?!
4. What do you consider your big break? How did you make the leap from dancer to choreographer?
Hmmm, big break you ask? Well I would say Michael Mayer offering me my first Broadway show as a choreographer, On A Clear Day You Can See Forever. We got killed in reviews but it was exciting and invigorating none the less. I do believe that every job I am fortunate enough to get will help the next opportunity to come my way… I hope!
Making the leap from a performer to a creator was not so easy—not for me anyway. I was so fortunate as a performer to work as much as I did. I had a very serious accident that helped change the trajectory of my career. Lucky for me, the accident which would have ended my dance career actually happened towards the end of my “dance” career. Wow, that was sentence. I never really considered myself a choreographer. I had tunnel vision in that I just wanted to perform. I did love being an associate and I loved being in the studio with the choreographer helping them create, banter, talk thru things. It was others in my life that suggested I should do it myself. After my accident, I really had to consider my future. Putting myself out there as a choreographer was (and still is) the scariest thing for me. You have to remember that what we do, theatre, art is all subjective. What you may love, others may hate. Trusting your instincts and your team is imperative. Then you hope the masses will appreciate.
5. What advice would you share to dancers who dream of one day choreographing and directing musicals?
My advice, my thoughts, is to try to work with as many different creators as you can. Listen, learn from them. Even if you do not like something or it does not click for you, you should not leave the room without absorbing what they offer. Hopefully you will find your own voice. It is not easy. It can be oh so stressful, so many times you have to work on your feet and keep your composure. I think staying open will allow you to continue to create.
If you’re in London, don’t miss JoAnn M. Hunter’s work on this new ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’.