Broadway 101 :: Matt Lenz brings his Dreams Project to Philly
Matt Lenz is one of the busiest musical directors around with a list of credits that includes everything from "Disney’s Beauty and the Beast" on Broadway to "Hairspray" in Germany. Lenz is also part of the Broadway Dreams Project, a program for aspiring actors, singers, dancers who get a chance to learn and perform with a battalion of theater professionals.
Last weekend Lenz was having a rare long weekend with his partner, Nicholas Rodriguez (and Diego, their Springer spaniel) in the Catskills before coming to Philadelphia for rehearsals, mentoring and performances with 185 local performers.
"We just finished Broadway Dreams in Omaha and we’re stealing a couple of days before we go to Philly. These intensive sessions are...well, pretty intense. So we’re taking five and shutting the phone off for a few hours," Lenz said.
Working with theater pros
"We don’t often get the chance to travel together," Lenz said. "Nicholas was a teacher with Broadway Dreams for four years and then this year he became director.
The program gives the participants "an opportunity to learn and perform with some of their idols in the theater," and cites the amazing impact it has on students. In fact, he says, "the inspiration goes both ways, we all come out of the week exhilarated by their passion. It reminds a lot of us why we got in the business in the first place."
"They are all people who have been on Broadway in the last year or two. Even though they are not teachers per se, they can share their experience and expertise. The instructors are all "performer- teachers in Philly, who will direct parts of the program and shows," Lenz said.
A talented line-up
The line-up includes Jason Robert Brown ("Parade," "13"), Tituss Burgess ("The Little Mermaid"), Craig D’Amico ("Annie Get Your Gun"), Deidre Goodwin ("A Chorus Line"), Morgan James ("Godspell"), Matthew Scott ("Jersey Boys"), Kirsten Scott ("Follies"), Tony Vincent ("Jesus Christ Superstar").
Actor-singer- director Billy Porter, who is currently working on the upcoming musical "Kinky Boots" (with a score by Cyndi Lauper and a book by Harvey Fierstein based upon the popular British comedy) will participate for a day of master classes."
Lenz said that in addition mastering how to become a Broadway triple threat, the program address practical realities of the theater. "It’s important for us to tell the truth about the business. How do you get over the ten auditions where you don’t book and still keep your chin up...a clear view of what life in the theater actually is."
One of the most ambitious components of Broadway Dreams is its outreach to performers of all backgrounds. The roster of students has to audition in the spring for the summer program. "The shows are custom built for each city we go to based on the students we have," Lenz explained, "What I love about the program that if someone has the talent and desire, we will find a way for them to be in the program."
Fully staged section
There will be two performances of "Express Yourself, Broadway Dreams" in Philly at the Kimmel Center with fully staged sections, instead of just a concert of songs.
"Deidre Goodwin who starred as Velma in ’Chicago’ on Broadway for years was a Fosse dancer, got it first hand from him, will be setting the ’Chicago’ section. We have Jason Robert Brown, handpicking songs from his shows. We are doing a segment from ’We Will Rock You’ music from Queen," Lenz said.
"We also have Spencer Liff who was just nominated for an Emmy for choreographing ("So You Think You Can Dance"). He is also choreographer for the hit NBC series "Smash.")
"I’ve seen him in five Broadway shows and am always bowled over." said Lenz. "That’s another great thing about Broadway Dreams, it also gives us a chance to work with people that we haven’t yet performed with."
Meanwhile, Lenz and Rodriguez looking forward to another week together. After Philly,
Lenz is preparing to direct the national tour of "Catch Me If You Can" and two upcoming musicals heading to Broadway, including "Jolson," starring Sam Harris.
With all their projects, the couple realized they be spending much time apart, which led to their adaptation of what they call the Three-Week Rule.
"We’ve been together for 9 ½ years, so we have a Three-Week Rule, which we’ve only broken once, when I was in South Africa. But always we make a point to travel wherever the other is and make it work," Lenz said. Sounds like the plot for a very romantic musical."
Express Yourself, Broadway Dreams is at the Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, PA on August 4, 2012 at 3pm and 8pm. For more information call 215-893-1999 or visit the Kimmel Center website.