Arts & Culture News

Devine Choreography in Rock of Ages, Now At The Winspear

Choreographer Kelly Devine is all too aware what happens when you Google her. "I have to tell everyone at the first rehearsal of a show that I am NOT the porn star," she says. Same name, way different career paths.

These days the non-porn Kelly Devine is in big demand, creating dances for Broadway shows, including Rock of Ages, the '80s-period rock musical starring American Idol runner-up Constantine Maroulis. It opened last night at the Winspear Opera House as one of the hot tickets in the Lexus Broadway Series. Devine was assistant choreographer (to Serge Trujillo) on Broadway hits Jersey Boys and Memphis before getting the Rock of Ages gig. Wherever the show "sits down" for a long run -- London, Toronto, Sydney -- Devine spends weeks or months auditioning and hiring dancers and then setting what can be described as her thoroughly kick-ass choreography on the new cast.

We caught Devine by phone the other day during a break in dance auditions for a new production of Faust at the Metropolitan Opera in New York (rehearsals start in November and its opens around Christmas). She's just back from four months in Australia, where she cast the Sydney Rock of Ages and choreographed director Des McAnuff's new musical Zhivago, still running in Melbourne. She leaves for London in a few days and returns to New York this summer for a new project that she says is "something big I can't talk about yet."

What Devine can talk about is how she devised the "let's get physical"-style moves for Rock of Ages and where she sees musical theater heading in the near future.

In Rock of Ages, the dance styles range from Whitesnake video-slut to Olivia-Newton-John-in-a-leotard to super-sexy stripper pole. What were your inspirations for the moves? Rock of Ages is not a parody of the '80s. It's authentic '80s so I used authentic '80s moves with my twists on them. The girls in the show have a lot of attitude. They've got big hair. They own it. It's athletic and sexy and sort of in-your-face fun.

In rehearsal back in 2008, did Rock of Ages feel like a hit? [Laughing] Are you kidding? When we were about to open off-Broadway, I thought it was either going to be a huge hit or kill my career. It's irreverent and fun and a sexy show. It's hysterical and very funny. I'm thrilled that people enjoy it.

How can you tell if a new show will make it? How soon can you tell if it will be good? Every show needs a chance and I like to get a couple of cracks at it. Pretty early on, I can tell if the material's good. I read scripts a lot and think it's either something I want to work on or it's not for me or doesn't speak to me. I've worked on shows that were so close, if we had just had another shot. In this economy you don't get that anymore. It's just so expensive to put up a Broadway show, you have to come out of the gate pretty strong. That being said, with anything good that you feel like you're in great shape with, you never feel like you're done. Even now with Rock, I keep tweaking and making it better.

When did you make the switch from dancer to choreographer? I started dancing really young. I was doing commercials in LA and had an agent and was doing TV shows. I had this great little career. While that was happening, I was assisting choreographers on shows. I had the bug then. I was already performing and working on the other side of the [director's] table. By 19 or 20 I felt very fulfilled as a performer. Then I got this dance job for a commercial in which I was dancing inside a giant book in high heels and fishnets -- just my face and legs poking out of this book, doing a kickline down a staircase. I said, you know what? I really want to choreograph. That was the breaking moment for me. I stopped performing and put myself out there as a choreographer. Started working with young pop stars for Virgin records. I choreographed the film Happy, Texas [she's married to the movie's screenwriter, Ed Stone] and from there kept plugging away. Jersey Boys was my first big theater thing.

Where is big musical theater going? I think it's exciting right now. Book of Mormon [now on Broadway] is such a daring piece. It's so irreverent but has so much heart, people don't expect it. It's opening audience's minds. It's allowing people to have dirty fun in a way that's not expected. Same with Rock of Ages. As opposed to a revival [like La Cage aux Folles] with some big star that would have a built-in audience who already loves the music and is excited to see a star in it. I'm excited about original material, newer stuff that will attract a younger audience, which we need to keep doing. Shows like Book of Mormon and Scottsboro Boys. Young audiences are really responding to shows like those.

From 1980s dance styles to Zhivago? How much research do you do? Yeah, all of the shows that I've worked on are so different. I do extensive research on what I'm working on. I worked with a traditional Russian dancer for Zhivago. To choreograph a show, I have to get my feet set in the right space and know some of the basics. Then I translate it into what I think works for the scene. Zhivago is brilliant. Book by Michael Weller and music by Lucy Simon [Carly's sister]. We're hoping it goes to Broadway eventually.

And until then you have to keep telling people you're not a porn star? [Laughing] And from what I hear, that other Kelly Devine has a certain specialty, if you know what I mean. What I need to do is get my web site up so you can tell us apart. I've just never been in this country long enough to do it.

Rock of Ages continues at the Winspear through May 29. For tickets, 214-880-0202 or online.

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Elaine Liner
Contact: Elaine Liner