"BAT BOY" director Michael Chamberlin had a vision: "When we first sat down and talked about the show, there were words used like 'hip' and 'downtown,' " recalls choreographer Michael J. Bobbitt. "I immediately turned on MTV to sort of get myself in the style of what they're doing today -- less musical theater and more clubby."
There was only one hitch: Bobbitt estimates only a third of his cast had any significant dance training, putting full-on Timberlakean moves out of reach. But the choreographer wasn't daunted. "It's a true challenge and I think that's one of the reasons people like using me: I don't settle for either not dancing or doing something that's uninteresting," he says. "It's the choreographer's job to take the bodies and the training that you have and to make them all look good."
For "Bat Boy," a musical theater sendup ripped from the pages of the Weekly World News, "One of my ideas was that the whole cast came up with the choreography themselves," Bobbitt says. "I imagined what steps the individual actors might do if the director told them all to go out and create a 'bat step,' then I put them all together into a combination."
Bobbitt used other techniques to make the most of the troupe's varying dance experience: "The bigger you make your body, the bigger the move looks, so I try my best to do lots of stuff with the arms that extends out of the body and above the body," he explains. "Things that move upstage and downstage -- straight at the audience -- don't read as well as stuff that moves side to side or up and down. They can do an easy step moving side to side and it looks like something more."
The effort was to create choreography that tapped each dancer's potential, not just their baseline abilities. "I'm a dance instructor, so one of the things I have is a good eye for seeing what it is they're messing up and I'm able to coach them along the way to get them to execute the steps with reasonable proficiency," Bobbitt says. "And if they can't I'll change the step."
Bobbitt is willing to compromise, but only so far. "When you dance in musical theater, it doesn't come out of a small moment, it comes out of a big moment. It has to be expressive," he says. "There's sort of a formula to musical theater, which is that the characters talk until they can't express themselves any more in words, so they have to sing out their thoughts. Sometimes they can't sing their thoughts any more so they have to dance it out. So," he adds with a chuckle, "tell the world that dance is the ultimate payoff."