Movement turns Book of Mormon from an overly long South Park skit into an shining example of how much dance supports and drives the best musical sequences.
Think West Side Story, where it’s impossible to visualize the opening without the telltale finger snap of the Jets and the bravura male dancing created by Jerome Robbins.
The slinky murderous dames of Chicago wouldn’t be nearly as desirably dangerous without those iconic shoulder slouches and long silk-stocking clad legs emphasized by Bob Fosse's style.
Casey Nicholaw turns Book of Mormon’s opening sequence, “Hello,” into as memorable a moment with his doorbell ringing routine.
The simplest of gestures, the lifting of a finger to push a bell, becomes a telltale definition of the lead characters’ earnest goodwill – so much so that the merest twitch in that direction in later sequences provokes howls of laughter from the audience.
A bigger sequence, based on the lead character’s “spooky Mormon hell dream,” lets Nicholaw bust out the full Busby Berkeley in a sequence that neatly mixes devils, Sodom, Gomorrah, and giant coffee cups.
In interviews, Nicholaw has named Book of Mormon's hymn to repression, “Turn It Off,” as one of his personal favorites and this clever routine, complete with black-outs and sparkly pink vests, certainly inspired lots of lobby chatter during the Seattle run of the musical at the Paramount.
Starting out at as performer, Nicholaw moved into direction and choreography around 2000. Other work on Broadway includes The Drowsy Chaperon and Spamalot, for which he received a Tony nominations, as well as Elf (seen last month at the 5th) and Book of Mormon, for which he received the Tony as co-director/choreographer.
Seattle audiences also saw his work last year in the premiere of Disney’s Aladdin at the 5th Avenue, a musical that now looks like it might be heading to Broadway as well.
As a choreographer and director, Nicholaw’s greatest strength is his ability to fade into his material. Each musical is quite different in its dance sequences, but each uses movement to give true spirit to its characters, be they Mormon missionaries, Arab street rats, or elves in New York.