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Susan Stroman on Record-Breaking Tony Nomination for New York, New York

To say you worked with musical-theater legend Bob Fosse for one of your first professional dancer jobs is a well-earned bragging right. To say you did that and you’ve tied with him as the most Tony Award–nominated choreographer in history puts you on another tier.

Five-time Tony Award–winning director-choreographer Susan Stroman is officially on the top tier.

When the 2023 Tony nominations were announced May 2, Stroman’s recognition for her New York, New York choreography marked her 11th nomination in the Best Choreography category. Stroman now shares her most-nominated title with Fosse, which they both achieved over the course of 31 years.

“It’s always an honor to have your work recognized,” says Stroman. “I understand what a privilege it is that I get to do what I love for a living. All of us in this business stand on the shoulders of the greats who came before us, and we’re lucky to learn from them, whether by collaborating with them or just watching their work onstage. I admired Fosse greatly and learned a great deal from him. Who knew when he was correcting me on a step 45 years ago, we would someday be matched in Tony nominations!”

Susan Stroman rehearsing Matthew Broderick for The Producers. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Susan Stroman rehearsing Matthew Broderick for The Producers. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Stroman is no stranger to making history. She became the first woman choreographer to receive two Tony nominations in one season, for her choreography for Contact and The Music Man in 2000. In 2011, with her ninth Best Choreography nomination (for The Scottsboro Boys), she became the most nominated woman choreographer ever. With her wins for both Best Choreography and Best Direction of a Musical for The Producers in 2001, she became the first woman to win both awards at one ceremony.

While her first Tony win was for Crazy for You’s choreography in 1992, Stroman began her illustrious career as a choreographer and director with Contact, going on to wear both hats for The Music Man, The Scottsboro Boys, and Young Frankenstein, just to name a few. Now she has brought her directing and choreographing skills to New York, New York.

Inspired by the 1977 film, the musical, with a book cowritten by Tony nominees David Thompson and Sharon Washington, tells the stories of musician Jimmy Doyle and singer Francine Evans as they follow their dreams in post–World War II New York City. With the musical’s sensational score from musical-theater luminaries John Kander and Fred Ebb, plus additional lyrics from Tony winner Lin-Manuel Miranda, Stroman was eager to create choreography that would immerse the audience in the city so nice they named it twice.

John Kander and Susan Stroman in rehearsals for New York, New York. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
John Kander and Susan Stroman in rehearsals for New York, New York. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

“The choreography should always enhance the character and highlight the particular emotion of the scene,” says Stroman. “It’s all about supporting the lyrics and the story. For New York, New York, the movement had to support the energy and the various characters and cultures that make up this city. Watching the finale and seeing the audience’s cheering response to the song that has become an anthem for our magnificent city fills my soul. There’s nothing more rewarding.”

New York City has long been a subject and setting for musicals, and for New York, New York, Stroman actually considers the city its own character. In trying to capture the city’s hustle-and-bustle energy, she wanted to convey the constant construction and how it’s always “being built higher and higher.” The idea struck her to incorporate the iconic 1932 photograph “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper,” in which 11 construction workers building Rockefeller Center eat lunch on top of a steel beam 850 feet in the air. After Kander played Stroman his “Wine and Peaches” melody, she coupled them, unlocking the fan-favorite tap-dancing number.

The cast of New York, New York. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
The cast of New York, New York. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

“Creating the tap dance on the steel construction beams was my favorite,” says Stroman. “I had to develop a tap combination that could fit into a 24-inch steel beam and constantly move to the left. It was a real collaboration with the design team to create the illusion of dancing high above New York City. The brave dancers were determined to solidify that illusion by doing steps that check their balance and exemplify their fears and thrills as their various characters dance high above the Manhattan street. The talented dancers rose to the challenge, and I am so proud of them.”

With the choreography rooted in storytelling, the next step for Stroman’s creative process is to add layers of research and consideration of performer capability. With a background in performing herself, she is a firm believer in collaborating directly with the actors—sharing why the steps have been chosen and engaging in movement development while they are in character, all to make sure they feel comfortable enough to land their musical moments.

“Characters themselves move differently,” says Stroman. “Researching the time period and the geographical area will always inform you about movement, like finding out what steps were popular and where they came from. It’s not to re-create dance forms of the period, but to create your own version that takes a nod to the flavor of the time and geographic area.”

Colton Ryan, Susan Stroman, and David Thompson in rehearsals for New York, New York. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Colton Ryan, Susan Stroman, and David Thompson in rehearsals for New York, New York. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

In addition to Jimmy and Francine, New York, New York highlights many different characters who come from different cultural backgrounds. Stroman prioritized curating a specific movement vocabulary for each cultural group that would inform the characters, like the Latin rhythms and salsa dance for the Diaz family, who just arrived from Cuba, or 1940s jazz steps for the jazz trumpeter Jesse, who hails from the Southern United States.

“I am lucky to have been trained in all forms of dance — ballroom, tap, jazz, ballet, partnering, modern, folk — [which I implemented for New York, New York’s choreography]. We wanted to represent the cultural tapestry of New York City. One comes to New York City from various parts of the world, to either change who they are, become the best at what they can be, and surround themselves with culture, wit, and energy.”

With the amount of culture, wit, and energy that Stroman put into New York, New York, it’s clear that her work is never about the potential awards or history-making milestones. She is resolutely focused on what she finds the most joy in: transporting audiences into a good story.

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