‘Pinafore’ Choreography in Capable Hands (and Feet) of GCU Dance Major
By Doug Carroll
GCU News Bureau
It’s becoming a tradition to close the Ethington Theatre Series with a lightweight, plot-optional musical that keeps the catchy tunes and slick choreography coming. In short, the perfect confection for the end of the year, and a rip-roaring good time.
In 2011, the Grand Canyon University campus swimming pool doubled as a liquid playhouse for “The Frogs,” which introduced then-freshman Adam Benavides as a gifted song-and-dance man. Last year, “The Boy Friend” took over the Ethington stage as twins Claire and Joy Flatz helped the smart dance numbers of award-winning consultant Lynette Kidman Nunez spring to life.
Now comes the comic opera “H.M.S. Pinafore” by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, which opens a two-weekend run on Friday night at Ethington. It’s a classic, a crowd pleaser since its London debut 135 years ago, and it’s considered one of the most influential works in the development of musical theatre.
Plenty of hard work goes into this much onstage fun, as GCU junior Samantha Newhall can attest. A dance-education major from Vancouver, Wash., she is the choreographer for “Pinafore,” and fortunately she has been down this road before.
“I don’t get intimidated that easily,” says Newhall, responsible for creating and teaching a half-dozen dance numbers to as many as 36 cast members, many of whom have minimal dance experience.
“This is an opera, and the challenge is trying to keep that essence and power while adding movement. Parts of it are comedic, and the dancing needs to enhance everything.”
Newhall was recommended earlier this year to “Pinafore” director Michael Kary by Susannah Keita, the director of GCU’s dance program.
“In the context of a musical, she understands that dances should serve to move the plot forward, rather than simply entertain,” Keita says of Newhall. “Sam’s creativity is a boon to every production she takes part in.”
Although she is 22 (and looks much younger), Newhall is an accomplished veteran. Four years ago, she choreographed “The Wizard of Oz” for a Christian theatre troupe in her hometown, and she also has done “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” which involved a cast of 95. She has produced and performed original pieces for dance concerts and showcases at GCU.
She says she’s able to slip easily into the mode of teacher, and that’s helpful when the pupils are her peers. They could give her a hard time, but they don’t.
“All students want to learn,” Newhall says. “Theatre students have a passion and a fire to learn something and use it for their future. That keeps me motivated to challenge them. They want to improve, and that’s huge.
“They know I’ll be tough on them. I’ll say, ‘We’re not going to leave until we get it right.’”
Newhall, who began dancing at the age of 3, says she has known for a long time that she wanted to teach dance. She wasn’t sure how GCU fit into that vision of her future, so she took a chance and came to Arizona.
She’s glad she did — and for deeper reasons than dance.
“I felt God was calling me here,” she says. “I’ve grown so much in my faith, and I take so much pride that I’m at a Christian school. My art is growing here because it’s centered around the Lord. I wouldn’t have this (opportunity) if it weren’t for Him.”
at Ethington Theatre
7:30 p.m. April 12 & 13 and 19 & 20;
2 p.m. April 14 and 21
Tickets: 639.8880 or [email protected]
Newhall credits Kary, an alumnus and instructor in the theatre program who still performs onstage, with supplying ample confidence that she can pull off a major production such as “Pinafore.”
“He knows how to be your biggest cheerleader,” she says. “Students go to him as a friend and mentor and fellow artist.”
To prepare for the production, she researched the “Pinafore” time period online with an eye toward what might be appropriate in the choreography. She took the nautical-themed costuming into consideration, as well, allowing for what might constrain the actors.
“I’m able to close my eyes and see people and movement,” Newhall says. “Then when I get to rehearsal, I have an idea.
“I know these people (who are in the show). We’re friends until we enter the work zone, and then I’m the teacher. … It’s been a nice process. Everyone wants this to be spot-on.”
Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or [email protected].