BY CARY GINELL
On January 12, members of the community got a chance to learn some dance steps from a premiere dance instructor, when Morgan Marcell, choreographer for the regional tour of In the Heights, presented a free workshop on the grounds in Carpenter Park, directly in front of the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. In the Heights, which premiered on Broadway in 2008, won Tony awards for Best Musical and Best Score. The event featured Marcell leading dancers of all ages and abilities in basic dance steps for several of the numbers in the show. Several hundred people turned out for the event, which was augmented by refreshments and a dance contest, with the winner being honored by a cameo role in Cabrillo Music Theatre’s production of the show when it comes to the Fred Kavli Theater, beginning March 28. Marcell, 25, is a dynamic performer and an enthusiastic teacher; she spoke animatedly and with passion about her craft.
VCOS: Tell about how you became involved with In the Heights.
MORGAN: I was in Los Angeles, training as a dancer, and they had auditions for In the Heights, which was coming to the L.A. area. I danced for Andy Blankenbuehler, the choreographer, and they brought me to New York for callbacks and I ended up becoming the dance captain for the first national tour. So I ended up learning the show inside and out anyway because my job was to put in new principals and any new cast members. Andy has trusted me with the choreography he designed, so any time there is a regional production, they ask me to teach the original choreography.
VCOS: What was your experience before this?
MORGAN: I started training when I was three, but I actually quit from seven to eleven. I was doing a lot of TV and film stuff. And then I got kicked out of a number in regional theater because I couldn’t tap, so I said to myself, “Never again!” and went back into jazz and ballet. I trained with great teachers, day in and day out, for a year-and-a-half which was when I got the show. My training is mainly in hip-hop, ballet, jazz, and contemporary dance.
VCOS: Would you call the choreography of In the Heights revolutionary when it came to Broadway?
MORGAN: Revolutionary is such a big word! I definitely think that it’s new, but yes, it started a trend for sure. Andy Blankenbuehler is a genius choreographer. The way he tells a story through movement is very unique and I think we’re starting to move away from big production numbers and moving toward using dance to really move and tell the story. And I think that’s where we need to be headed and that’s what we’re doing.
VCOS: Isn’t that what ballet is all about? Using movement to help tell a story?
MORGAN: Yeah, it’s like The Nutcracker or something like that. You’re telling a story through dance. Or with some of the modern pieces by Alvin Ailey where there’s no speech, and the audience is still moved by it. I think that’s definitely what we’re moving towards.
VCOS: Tell me about Carnaval De Cabrillo and what this event was for.
MORGAN: Raul Espinoza is our publicity guy and he’s been amazing. He did the publicity for the tour at the Pantages. So he created this event called Carnaval De Cabrillo to have food, music, and invite the community so that we could really draw audience members into the story of the show. I think he did an amazing job. I wan’t necessarily prepared for an event like this for regional theater, but I’m so glad we did it. The show is all about community and very clearly there is an interest from the community. I’m definitely surprised by the turnout and happy that we did it.
VCOS: A lot of audience members are turned off by shows that they are not familiar with, and even though this show won Best Musical a few years ago, the general public still does not know a lot about it, so this was a great idea, introducing the community to elements from the show.
MORGAN: This show is unique. I have done other regional shows that are marketable on their own. You know, “It’s Oliver!” “It’s Oklahoma!” These are shows people are familiar with. They’re not familiar with this show. It’s modern, it’s urban, it’s new, and so we need to do something like this to break through to the audience. And I would say that, hopefully, it works. I’ve never done an event like this to promote a regional production, but I’m really happy to do it because this show is really close to my heart as an artist and as a person. The dance part of it is so close to me, so I’m glad that I got to present that today.
Cabrillo Music Theatre’s production of In the Heights runs from March 28 to April 6. For dates and show times, see the VC On Stage Calendar.