Broadway history was made once again this season on April 24, 2016, when Waitress opened at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. It became the first Broadway musical to feature an all-female creative team: the first time in the history of Broadway that the composer/lyricist, book-writer, director, and choreographer were all females. Part of that history-making team was choreographer Lorin Latarro.
Her journey to that opening night was a long one. She began her Broadway career as a performer, dancing in the ensembles of Kiss Me Kate and Twyla Tharp’s Movin’ Out; she even understudied major roles in the 2006 revival of A Chorus Line. While she enjoyed performing, Latarro was always choreographing when she wasn’t on the stage. She assisted others with their choreography, and she also created her own pieces. The chorus girl soon realized the creative process was more fulfilling for her than the performance: “I found the time spent in the studio creating the dances became more satisfying than doing the dances onstage.”
In 2012 she was able to get that satisfaction when her choreography was performed on Broadway in Scandalous: the Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson. With her Broadway choreography debut under her belt, she went on to be the associate choreographer of Hands on a Hardbody (which also played the Brooks Atkinson!) and Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.Then Tony-winning director Diane Paulus asked her to read the script and listen to the music of a new musical called Waitress. It resonated instantly. She says the music is “hauntingly beautiful.” The show touched her because “it’s an important story of a woman’s struggle to get out from an abusive relationship, and it speaks to the strength of female friendship.”
With those themes of strong female friendship, the show is the perfect one to make history as the first musical to fill all four creative spots with women: Latarro choreographed, Paulus directed, Jessie Nelson penned the book, and Sara Barielles–in her Broadway debut– provided the score. (For the record, the show made history as the first Broadway musical to feature an all female creative team. The first play to do that also opened this season: Eclipsed). However, Latarro explains, the unprecedented assembly of an all-female creative team wasn’t planned; “it just happened.” There were other choreographers up for the position, both male and female. But when it became clear that history was happening, all four women celebrated.
“I felt very comfortable with the team from the beginning. Sara and Diane and Jessie are all incredibly intelligent, sensitive artists. We were all very honest with each other, but very generous and kind.”
So considering her experience as a performer, could it be possible that Latarro will step into a role in the musical that she choreographed? “Oh no,” she laughs. “I am not going to be going onstage any longer. I much prefer passing that gift to others.” She says that she really enjoys the freedom of being able to tell anyone’s story. “The cool thing is that I can shape shift as a choreographer. I used to get work as a dancer by being a sparky, petite, sharp dancer. Now…I can create anything! [I can] create for the tall rockettes, an older man or woman, a teenage girl… It’s very freeing.”
And it was quite freeing to watch her own choreography come to life onstage on that opening night, surrounded by her friends and family, an experience she describes as “thrilling and surreal. Everyone around me that evening had been witness to how many years I have been working on getting to Broadway as a choreographer. There was a genuine support group with me.”
The performer-turned-choreographer got to watch her work, and watch others in the audience become inspired by it. She hopes that this story–and this all-female creative team–will help broaden horizons for others in the future and make people think differently about who can tell what stories.
“I’m proud to be part of this historic moment. I hope for more women to be invited to the table. I believe both men and women can tell men and women’s stories…In fact, it’s not even that binary. But I do hope we continue to tell many types of stories with different, diverse protagonists at the center.”
Latarro took a risk by changing her focus as an artist and transitioning from performer to creative. But she feels very lucky to have been given the opportunities she has since she made the switch. She hopes “to continue to be part of teams that create new, important musicals that push the envelope of musical theater forward.”
Just like the musical’s protagonist Jenna, Lorin Latarro stepped out of her routine job to find something more fulfilling. It may have been a risk, but look at the reward.