Larry Sousa (photo: courtesy SpeakEasy Stage)
SpeakEasy Stage’s In The Heights features the work of a local choreographer gone big time. New production runs May 10 to June 8
By Loren King
Director/choreographer Larry Sousa remembers the first day of his first Broadway show, My Favorite Year. Sousa, who was part of the chorus, visited the craft services table. Dozens of coffee mugs were set out, each one emblazoned with the show’s logo and the cast member’s name. “I was shocked. I had my own mug!” recalls Sousa. As he stood there in awe of the validating welcome, a voice behind him said, “I know. It’s my first Broadway show, too.” Sousa turned and came face to face with Andrea Martin, one of the stars of the musical.
Now an in-demand choreographer/director on the Boston theater scene, Sousa has had other pinch-me moments over the course of 12 years working in television and theater in Los Angeles and New York. While appearing in the 2009 Broadway musical Busker Alley, composed by the Richard and Robert Sherman of Mary Poppins fame, Sousa recalls a rehearsal when the cast members broke into one of the composers’ signature songs. “We were sitting around a table singing ‘Feed the Birds’ to the guy who wrote it,” he says.
Sousa reunites with Richard Sherman (Robert died in 2012) for the Sherman brothers’ last score together, Merry Go Round, a new musical that shows a darker side to the Shermans, says Sousa. It’s a sophisticated father-son story with Florence Henderson and Conrad John Schuck attached to star. The delays inherent in financing a Broadway musical with a $14 million budget means Sousa has time to pursue numerous other projects in Boston, his second home, while waiting for the green light on the Broadway-bound Merry Go Round. He’s choreographing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award winning In the Heights, the final show of Boston’s SpeakEasy Stage 2012-13 season. It runs May 10 to June 8.
In The Heights, set in the largely Dominican-American neighborhood of New York’s Washington Heights, is an exuberant musical that fuses styles from hip hop and salsa to flamenco and rap to tell the stories of the residents of this close-knit Latin community. “I’ll pull together disco, breakdance, vintage and contemporary moves, all inspired by the show itself,” says Sousa. “It has a classic musical structure and, at the same time, a modern sensibility.” While Andy Blankenbuehler had nine months to rehearse his Tony-winning choreography for the Broadway version, “We have three weeks,” says Sousa. “It will be original and fresh and not derivative of anyone else’s,” he says. The ensemble cast includes students from Boston Conservatory, where Sousa teaches. He’s also on the faculty of Bridgewater State University.
Earlier this year, Sousa choreographed SpeakEasy’s Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, directed by Paul Melone. SpeakEasy artistic director Paul Daigneault tapped Sousa to choreograph not just In the Heights but also a surprise dance number for The SpeakEasy Roar, an April fundraiser. Sousa managed to organize more than 40 guests in a 1920s-style dancing flash mob.
“I’ve been blessed with lots of opportunities. I will work in Boston whether I’m living here on not,” says Sousa, who besides directing and choreographing, is working with creative partners to develop original musicals in Boston.
A Brockton native, Sousa started performing early. He thrived in the highly regarded drama department at Brockton High School and at Brockton’s acclaimed Gold School Dance Art where now teaches (“I put a lot of miles on my car,” he says.)
“Brockton has a huge tradition of supporting the arts,” he says, noting with pride that Gold School alum are featured in Newsies, Billy Elliott and other Broadway and touring shows. It was through Project Moves at the Gold School that Sousa, who earned his BFA at Ithaca College and his MFA at the University of California at Irvine, co-conceived and directed Accept Me, a dance/theatre work about the effects of bullying. The show tours high schools around New England and also has had impact right at home, he says. “It’s created a more positive atmosphere at the Gold School since this dialogue started and strengthened family bond within the company.”
Sousa is long been out, he says, because as an advocate for students he wants them to “embrace who they are and be proud. We don’t push kids to be out. But I wish I’d had gay roles models growing up. We just encourage them to be who they are, and whatever they are is OK.”
For tickets and more information, go to www.SpeakEasyStage.com.
The author is solely responsible for the content.