How many measures of dance has Kaye Migaki choreographed over the years?
Let’s put it this way: Her latest show, “Crazy for You,” is the 57th production — yes, we’re talking Heinz numbers here — that she’s choreographed for Good Company Players in the last 40 years.
Add 20 more productions for other companies, and that’s a lot of dance moves.
“Crazy for You,” described when it opened on Broadway in 1992 as “The New Gershwin Musical Comedy,” is a dance-heavy show. (It’s largely based on George and Ira Gershwin’s 1930 musical “Girl Crazy.”) We caught up with Migaki, a GCP stalwart, via email to talk about her role as choreographer.
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Question: When you find out you’re going to choreograph a show such as “Crazy for You,” what’s your creative process in terms of research, inspiration, etc.?
Answer: It depends on the show. For instance, “Crazy For You” is a title that I have done before. So I only needed to reread the script, refer to my notes and choreograph dances that I hadn’t done before (the last time, Fred Bologna and I co-choreographed it). If it is a new title to me, then I take into consideration the time period, any specific dance styles and whether they are production dances or particular to the storytelling, and the limitations of the stage and sets.
Do you already know going into the first dance rehearsal what the choreography is going to look like?
I always have an idea of how I would like it to look. But in most cases, I need to make adjustments for various reasons. Sometimes because of the dancers and sometimes because I don’t like what I’ve come up with.
What sort of attributes/skills do you look for at dance auditions?
For a show like “Crazy for You” I definitely needed tap dance skills, which, unfortunately, is not a skill that one can fake. The rest of the show is musical theater-type dancing and the main couple does “Fred and Ginger” ballroom style. In any audition, personality and characterization is also important to me. At times I’ve given higher scores to someone who is really “selling” it rather than the skilled, yet dull dancer.
Tell us about “Crazy for You.”
“Crazy” centers around Bobby Child, who is torn between trying to please his mother, dealing with a rich, pushy fiancée and satisfying his love of dancing on the stage. It’s like one of those Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movies: “I gotta Barn, I got some costumes, let’s put on a show!” This show has a little of everything. First there is the great music of George Gershwin, then there are pretty showgirls, cowboys and multiple subplots like double identity and unusual pairings.
What is the most difficult dance number in the show?
Definitely “I Got Rhythm.” First, it’s a tap number and it uses almost the entire cast. When I saw the show on Broadway, they used every prop you could think of that would be in a Western town. I tried to replicate this, so the dancers not only have to tap but also deal with hammers, saws, buckets, picks, etc.
Give us a little background about you.
I’ve been teaching dance since I graduated from high school, and choreography comes with the territory. And I worked with the Fresno Ballet for many years before I started working with GCP. Chris Moad suggested my name to Dan Pessano to choreograph “Sweet Charity” for the GCP summer season of 1976, which was performed at the Del Webb building. The next year they broke ground at their current location and I choreographed “Stop The World, I Want To Get Off.” From then on, it’s been one show after the other.
Favorite show you’ve choreographed?
I don’t have a favorite, but there was one show that I had always wanted to choreograph. When I was a senior in high school, I was cast in the marching band for Fresno Community Theater’s production of “The Music Man.” I sat at many rehearsals watching the dancers and thinking, “I can come up with better steps than that.” Well, I don’t know if they were any better, but I got my chance to choreograph the show at GCP twice.
Any horror stories to share from productions long in the past?
I’ve had shows when cast members suddenly disappeared. One between the first and second acts, one between the Sunday matinee and evening show, and one an hour before curtain. In the latter, she was the lead and the show had to be canceled. The audience was already there, had eaten dinner and the chairs were newly painted. Some of the diners discovered wet paint stains on their clothes. It was horrible.
Of the most recent Broadway shows that haven’t yet come to Fresno, is there one you’d most like to tackle as a choreographer?
When I was with the ballet company, I choreographed “Fancy Free,” which is based on “On The Town.” I would love to tackle it if I could get the male dancers that it requires. This is not easy in Fresno.
Anything to add?
It’s been so fulfilling to have had the opportunity to create choreography for all the shows that I have done. If I were in New York or Los Angeles, there would be no way that I would have done a quarter of these shows. It’s been a learning journey for me too.