Professor Spotlight

Marilyn D'Honau - Lessons From a Lifetime in Theatre

It starts with her email address, which references one of the greatest Broadway shows of all time: West Side Story. Marilyn D'Honau was only 17 when she appeared in the show that would forever change her life.

"I learned so much from Jerry [Jerome Robbins, who directed and choreographed the show]," said D'Honau. "His choreography was so beautiful, but he also put a lot of focus on each dancer understanding their character."

The show was groundbreaking in its structure, which was different than what people expected from musicals at that time. "Each act ends with a death," said D'Honau. "Out of town reviews were only so-so, because people just weren't ready for a musical drama."

D'Honau's career also included roles in the original Gypsy (with Ethel Merman, "who had a mouth on her that would make a sailor blush"), the revival of Pal Joey (with Bob Fosse choreographing one number) and the original Applause (with Lauren "Betty" Bacall), to name but a few of her productions. She also appeared on several television variety shows that provided opportunities for dancers to gain professional experience while making contacts that could further their careers.

Dancing was always D'Honau's strength, starting as an eight-year-old in Cranford, New Jersey, where she grew up as one of eight children. Her first Broadway show came at the age of 14, when she was cast as a replacement for one of the dancers in On Your Toes. But D'Honau always studied voice (including opera) as well, and it paid off in Sweet Charity, when she was hired as a singer.

These days D'Honau focuses on teaching more than performing (although she recently appeared in a music video starring Ariana Grande), and she has been a dance instructor at CAP21 for more than 22 years. "I love helping someone improve," she said, "and I love seeing them perform."

D'Honau sees a lot of talent in the young performers she trains, but worries that they don't have realistic expectations of the industry. "There's so much competition now and the financial pressures are even more than when I was coming up," she said. "But some performers think that they will graduate and go directly to Broadway.  You have to be willing to pay your dues, do summer stock, look to the regional theatres."

Her advice to her students remains the same: Keep taking classes. "You have to keep those muscles trained and ready for the next opportunity. If you have a job now, what are you doing to prepare for the next job?

"You have to keep your technique sharp, that's the first thing they look for in an audition. You can't fake it."

And with that she was off to teach another class.

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