It's quiet at the Main Street Youth Theatre. Rehearsal for "Guys and Dolls" is over for the day, and the cast has gathered their rehearsal clothes and started to trickle out. Still in place, heads together in a brightened corner of the stage, are artistic director Don Hite and guest choreographer Dante Henderson. They are carefully looking over their notes, the early outcome of their artistic collaboration.
"Dante was quite courageous to join us down here to put this production together," Hite said. "He came to town and brought all of his awesome background in performance and choreography, and teaching."
There were no TV cameras nor videographers in place to record the dramatic results they brought about at this rehearsal on the stage at Main Street. What a story it would have told. In just over one week's time, Henderson had met and reached out to the cast -- a wonderful and diverse group of 35, ages 13 and older, and asked that they make their participation in this show the best that they all believed possible.
"The stakes are high, and we are putting so much into it ... we are hanging on a drop," Hite said. "This show is taking such a wonderful direction with Dante."
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Dressed in a black leotard and an athletic cap, a manicured beard framing his youthful face, Henderson established an instant rapport with the cast. They listened intently. There could be no mistake. He is an accomplished dancer, choreographer and teacher, and he came to Main Street Theatre to help them make "Guys and Dolls" a success.
Henderson started at the very beginning on his very first day of their week together. He carefully explained their responsibility to conduct themselves professionally -- with particular care to respecting everyone, not simply the directors, but most especially their fellow cast members.
"I reminded everyone there that day what it takes to be in the theater. To focus on what it is you are doing to engage an audience," he said. "Using your performance skills, you are actually creating magic -- illusions -- that will bring believability to their theater experience."
The production numbers, which contributed to the success of the show on Broadway back in 1950 and still are enormous crowd pleasers, are what Henderson made his focus. It's a challenge he met in the most energetic way. He broke the cast down into groups according to production numbers to learn and then hone to perfection the final product. Some would do "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat," others would do "Crapshooter's Ballet" and others would do "Luck be a Lady."
"At first I introduced a series of dance steps," he said. "I could tell instantly those who would take the lead and simply do as I asked, and those who didn't have enormous experience, but who were dedicated to taking their participation in this production over their personal top."
This young choreographer impressively took the dancers through their paces. He counted on some who clearly were more experienced, and brought them forward as examples to those with less experience. Through it all, there was complete commitment from every performer.
Hite, fresh from a successful run of "Music of the Night" at Main Street, reached out to friends he had made during his years as a member of the Broadway community to find professionals to help with his lately production. He put together a kind of hit list of professional talents.
"I wanted to involve some guest artists at Main Street, a performer and a choreographer, for sure," he said. "How lucky for everyone that Dante Henderson was with us as choreographer and Mark Edwards as a performer. Also incredible was that we got the original William Ivey costumes ... almost stars themselves."
You have probably seen Henderson or heard him on stage, screen, television, radio or even on the runway. He is the perfect example of an entertainment polymath -- a singer, dancer, model, actor, choreographer and teacher. He succeeds at all.
Henderson started on this career path when he was 19 and was selected to dance at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles. Happily that early thrill and accomplishment led to the continuing of his career, which has taken him around the world in many capacities. In addition to his performance activities, he teaches dance at a private college in Detroit and is a national award-winning choreographer for American Dance Academy in Michigan.
The cast, according to Hite, continues to step up to Henderson's challenges. They took his suggestions and translated them into action.
They listened. They concentrated and they remembered. They hated to see him leave.
"Guys and Dolls" is the opener for the season, running from Oct. 17 through Oct. 26.
Artist, musician, teacher and writer Nancy K. Wellard focuses on portraying and promoting the cultural arts, first in Los Angeles and, for close to 30 years, in the Lowcountry.