New York choreographer Michelle Bruckner working with the cast of Lincoln Academy’s Guys and Dolls, which opens March 20 at Poe Theater.
Lincoln Academy’s March production of Guys and Dolls is getting a boost from Broadway, thanks to Heartwood Theater’s relationship with choreographer Michelle Bruckner, who travels from New York each week during the show’s rehearsals to work with the cast on the show’s dance scenes.
Bruckner is a familiar presence at LA who has been working with the LA theater program since 2016. She has choreographed the last three LA fall musicals, including 2018’s Man of La Mancha, 2017’s West Side Story, and 2016’s Centerstage, as well as several Heartwood Regional Theater Company productions.
Bruckner boasts a long resume of performing on and off Broadway as well as in regional theater productions around the country, and has been on the dance faculty at the American Music and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) in New York City since 2006. According to LA theater director Griff Braley, Bruckner completes the “triple threat” education offered by LA theater, which also includes Braley teaching acting and Beth Preston, who retired from her position as LA choir director last year but continues to work with theater productions, teaching singing.
“Michelle brings professional experience from both her performance and teaching career,” said Braley. “She brings humor, a strong work ethic, and a plan to her rehearsals. She connects with experienced and first-time dancers, giving every student a balance of support and challenge. This is very much within the philosophy of our vocal and acting coaching, so Michelle completes the triple threat approach. She brings expectations and strong teaching skills: a balance of rote learning to build muscle memory, a willingness to push beyond first limits that builds confidence and focus, and a respect for physical aspects of the performer, carefully considering what young bodies need to stay healthy for the long run. Beyond teaching, Michelle has studied the techniques of a wide history of Broadway choreographers, which makes her choreography interesting and vibrant on our small stage.”
Bruckner’s choreography aims to keep the traditional spirit of Guys and Dolls, first staged in 1950, alive, without emulating any particular past performance. She aims to craft movement to match both the skill level of dancers and the text and musical tradition of the classic play.
“Michelle builds on the natural athleticism and exuberance of the boys, while she crafts the look for our female dancers who generally have more dance training,” said Braley. “Her goal is to balance the experienced and inexperienced and make the best of both. Michelle has a gift for making dances fun, but hard enough to keep performers processing and performing at 100%. We saw this in West Side Story, where kids really brought their characters into the songs. This is Broadway at its best: using voice, acting, dance in a seamless approach.”
As for Bruckner, who has been performing and choreographing in Maine on and off since her early twenties, she is drawn to the community, teaching, and landscape of midcoast Maine. “I love coming back to the area because it’s a chance for me to share what I was given and pass on the knowledge. That’s what we performers do: we learn, and then we teach—it’s a big circle of love and respect.”
LA junior Emma Tolley, who plays Adelaide in the show, also serves as Dance Captain for the cast, a role in which she learns all dances in the show and coaches her fellow performers when Bruckner is not available. Tolley, who has been dancing since preschool, has tremendous admiration for Bruckner, and considers her a mentor. “Working with Michelle has been such a remarkable experience for me,” she said. “As a dancer myself, it is truly inspiring to see a professional dancer share her passion, especially with a group of kids that have never had training before. Michelle has shown the cast what true commitment looks like by starting her days at 5:30 a.m. to drive up from New York to Maine and rehearsing with us for hours without complaining. We are so blessed to be able to work with a shining star like Michelle.”
According to Braley, “Guys and Dolls is looking great. The energy is high with a cast of around 50. This is an old favorite, so we’re doing our best to bring the show up to speed and give our audience a wonderful night in the theater. There is a ton of new talent on stage, along with some veteran players who have not played large roles… lots of learning, lots of new challenges and enough overreach to be a little scary – just the way we like it!”
After Guys and Dolls closes, Bruckner will offer dance workshops in ballet, jazz, and tap through Heartwood, where she will teach dance at camp this summer, and her own studio, Michelle Bruckner Broadway Dance Arts, Inc. in Boothbay Harbor and Topsham. “I’m finding that a balance of high-pressure auditions in New York City and coming to the beautiful state of Maine, with these wonderful, talented people, makes a nice life balance for me,” said Bruckner. “Eventually I want to live in Maine full-time but I’m not quite there yet.”
Guys and Dolls shows are March 20, 21, 26, 27, and 28 at 7:30 pm and March 21 and 29 at 3 pm in Lincoln Academy’s Parker Poe Theater. Tickets are already selling fast. Contact Heartwood Theater at 563-1373 or firstname.lastname@example.org to make a reservation.