McRae in rehearsal for Paramour (photo by Andrew Atherton, courtesy Paramour)

A New Yorker through and through, Raven McRae lights up any stage with her big-city energy. She started training at a local Brooklyn community center, and went on to study at Creative Outlet Dance Theatre of Brooklyn, Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts and The Ailey School. She performed with Dance Iquail, BalaSole and Ballet Hispanico’s BHdos before being mentored by Tony Award–winning choreographer George Faison, who she met at an audition. McRae made her Broadway debut in Motown: The Musical, and is currently performing in Cirque du Soleil’s newly opened show, Paramour. Read on for The Dirt. —CB

What’s the most-played song on your playlist?

“Lost Ones,” by Lauryn Hill. I’m obsessed with Lauryn Hill. <3

What’s your favorite TV show?

I love “Bob’s Burgers.” Every character in that show is hilarious!

What’s something no one knows about you?

I’m still a little afraid of the dark. Every time I turn off the hallway light, I run really fast to my room.

What’s one food you can’t live without?

I cannot live without pizza! There’s something about melted cheese that satisfies my soul.

Do you have any nicknames?

Most people call me Rae. Some call me firecracker…I can’t imagine why!

Who would play you in a movie?

I would love for Kerry Washington to play me in a movie. I’m convinced she’s my celebrity look-alike.

What was your most embarrassing performance moment?

I fell onstage at a recital when I was 12. I kind of deserved it because I tried to out-dance everyone and kick really high.

What are you most proud of?

I am proud of myself for never giving up on my dreams. I never let anything discourage me from getting what I wanted.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

I wanted to be a pop singer! I was obsessed with the Spice Girls and I wanted to be just like Scary Spice.

If you could work with any performer, who would it be?

Eartha Kitt to me is the fiercest performer that’s ever lived. I wish I could feed off of the majestic energy she exudes.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

I love to eat an entire pie of Domino’s pizza and binge-watch any- and everything on Netflix.

Who’s your dance crush?

Carlos Acosta. Enough said.

What are your pet peeves?

I really don’t like when other dancers don’t hold their spacing. I get paranoid that I’ll get kicked.

What’s one thing you can’t live without?

I can’t live without my Bible. My faith is very important to me. It keeps me sane.

What’s it been like being in Cirque du Soleil’s first Broadway show?

This experience is super-exciting! The acrobatics, singing, acting and dancing all come together so seamlessly!

What’s your favorite part of Paramour?

My favorite part is singing a song called “Ginger Top.” I love the 1920s feel it has. It’s so catchy that it gets stuck in my head for hours!

Who’s your dance role model?

Nicole De Weever is my role model. She is a beautiful, accomplished dancer. However, it is her devotion to giving back to the community that inspires me the most.

Who can always make you laugh?

My fellow cast member Yanelis Brooks can always make me laugh. She has her own way of saying things that is so funny to me.

What’s your best advice for young performers?

I would say to know, find and investigate that unique quality in themselves that no one else has and let that shine! No one can be you better than you!

It’s back! Welcome to the second annual Jazz Hand Awards—aka “The Jazzies”—where we honor the latest, greatest and danciest shows currently gracing the Great White Way.

Paramour (photo by Joan Marcus, courtesy Boneau/Bryan-Brown)

The Jazzie for the Most Jaw-Dropping Acrobatics Goes to…

Paramour

An acro award for a show produced by Cirque du Soleil? Well, that’s a given. But the way Cirque’s first-ever Broadway production seamlessly fuses musical theater, dance and tricks is truly innovative—and seriously stunning. “It’s a meeting of different worlds, and creating a common quality between all of them was a real challenge for me,” says choreographer Daphné Mauger. “The end result is dancing that’s not a precise style, but more an embodiment of a set of feelings.” If you adore Tinseltown glamour, you’ll swoon for this show, which centers on a love triangle between a breakout starlet, a film director and a composer in the golden age of Hollywood. Giant dance numbers and epic sets pay homage to classic films—including a Western saloon scene inspired by Seven Brides for Seven Brothers—and magical, gravity-defying stunts complement traditional musical-theater choreo.

 

(From left) Phillipa Soo, Renée Elise Goldsberry and Jasmine Cephas Jones in Hamilton (photo by Joan Marcus, courtesy Sam Rudy PR)

The Jazzie for the Most Non-stop Action Goes to…

Hamilton

Smash hit Hamilton is the coolest thing to hit the Great White Way since mastermind and star Lin-Manuel Miranda’s previous show, In the Heights. The story follows the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton (played by Miranda), from his humble beginnings as an orphaned immigrant to his tenure as our country’s first Secretary of the Treasury. While the script is based on historical events, it’s anything but a boring history lesson: Cabinet meetings are recreated as rap battles, and the dramatic plot is intertwined with Andy Blankenbuehler’s dynamic hip-hop–inspired choreo. Prepare to be wowed by the talented ensemble of dancers who constantly weave in and out of the action on the set’s turntable. They’re onstage for most of the show!

 

Ana Villafañe (center) with the cast of On Your Feet! (photo by Matthew Murphy, courtesy Vivacity Media Group)

The Jazzie for the Hottest Salsa in the Sparkliest Costumes Goes to…

On Your Feet!

Flashy Latin dance moves and complex partnering define choreographer Sergio Trujillo’s numbers in On Your Feet!, which follows Cuban-American pop stars Emilio and Gloria Estefan’s rise to fame. You’ll be addicted to the couple’s bouncy hits, including “Conga,” “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” and “Turn the Beat Around,” which inspire tons of high-energy dancing. Trujillo comes to the show with a diverse resumé (he choreographed Jersey Boys and Memphis), but On Your Feet! marks the first all-Latin dance show for the Colombian-born artist. He even visited Cuba while choreographing to make sure the dancing was truly authentic, and that authenticity can be found in every number—most notably “Cuba Libre,” where the ladies don chancletas, wood-bottomed sandals that create rhythmic, taplike sounds.

 

Alex Brightman (center) and the kids of School of Rock (photo by Matthew Murphy, courtesy DKC/O&M)

The Jazzie for the Most Aggressive Head-Banging Goes to…

School of Rock

The kids in School of Rock are insanely talented and energetic: Not only do they play their own instruments, but they also basically don’t stop bouncing around for the entire show. Based on the 2003 movie, the musical follows the story of Dewey Finn (played by Alex Brightman of Wicked and Matilda), an underachiever with rock-star dreams whose financial troubles lead him to impersonate a substitute teacher. When he realizes his prep-school students have musical talent, he organizes them into a rock group—allowing the tight-laced kids to let loose and discover themselves along the way. Expect tons of rocking dance numbers, including “Stick It to the Man” and “You’re in the Band,” which feature the fun choreography of JoAnn M. Hunter. “I love that the School of Rock choreo has a unique style you don’t see in any other Broadway show right now,” says Carly Gendell, who plays peppy backup singer Marcy. “We do a ton of jumping and head banging, but there are also more precise moves, like what we like to call a ‘Shipoopi,’ where you pose three times every eight counts.”

 

The ensemble of Shuffle Along (photo by Julieta Cervantes, courtesy DKC/O&M)

The Jazzie for the Best Rhythm/Broadway Tap Fusion Goes to…

Shuffle Along

Formally titled Shuffle Along, Or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, this Savion Glover–choreographed production tells the story behind one of the first all–African-American Broadway shows. Six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald stars as Shuffle Along’s original lead actress Lottie Gee, and an ensemble of fierce tappers tackle Glover’s steps, which feature ’20s moves seamlessly combined with syncopated rhythm tap. The ladies may wear heels, but this show is anything but light and airy Broadway tapping: It’s the real hoofing deal.

 

Jessie Mueller in Waitress (photo by Joan Marcus, courtesy Matt Ross PR)

The Jazzie for the Best Dancing While Baking Pies Goes to…

Waitress

This charming new musical, based on the 2007 indie film, tells the story of Jenna, a diner waitress and master pie baker who struggles with love and finds comfort in the friendship of her fellow waitresses. Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles brings original music and lyrics, uniting with Finding Neverland and Pippin director Diane Paulus, book writer Jessie Nelson, and veteran dancer and choreographer Lorin Latarro to form Broadway’s first-ever all-female creative team. The dancing is mostly subtle throughout, so don’t expect show-stopping numbers. But do expect pieces that move the story’s heartwarming plot along, or highlight Jenna’s fantasies while she’s baking. Case in point: The “What’s Inside” scene, where ensemble members whirl and twirl around a pie-baking Jenna, handing off ingredients and embodying her emotions.

 

Terrence Mann (center) and the cast of Tuck Everlasting (photo by Jeremy Daniel, courtesy Boneau/Bryan-Brown)

The Jazzie for the Best Waltzing through the Woods Goes to…

Tuck Everlasting

It may have closed at the end of May, but Tuck Everlasting will live forever (pun intended) in our hearts! Fresh off his Something Rotten! success, director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw presented this powerful musical, posing the question, “If you could live forever, would you?” Tuck Everlasting followed 11-year-old Winnie Foster as she discovered the Tuck family, their magical spring in the woods and what it really means to be immortal. The dancing was a whole new vocabulary experiment for Nicholaw—think ballet steps mixed with folklike theater dance and hints of waltz. “It was an unusual show choreographically in that half the time the ensemble was dancing a character’s emotions, rather than actually being characters themselves,” Nicholaw says.

 

Fiddler on the Roof (photo by Joan Marcus, courtesy Jeffrey Richards Associates)

The Jazzie for the Best New Dance “Tradition” Goes to…

Fiddler on the Roof

This revival of the 1964 classic, which follows a Jewish milkman and his daughters in turn-of-the-century Russia, got a brilliant update from Israeli-born choreographer Hofesh Shechter. If you’re a modern-dance fan, you’ll love seeing Jerome Robbins’ original pieces reimagined with Shechter’s contemporary flair—think grounded lunges and lots of raw physicality. “Shechter’s choreography feels very authentic,” says dance captain and ensemble member Marla Phelan. “There are heavy, low stomps that have a very prideful feeling, as well as lots of reaching, raised arms that feel very spiritual. The dance numbers come out of a place of believable, and powerful, necessity.” “So You Think You Can Dance” winner Melanie Moore, most recently seen as Peter Pan in Finding Neverland, plays rebellious daughter Chava, and you’ll spot Newsies’ Jacob Guzman dancing in the ensemble.

 

London's West End revival of Cats (courtesy DKC/O&M)

The Jazzie for the Fiercest Feline Moves Goes to…

Cats

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s famous show, which ran on Broadway for 18 years, is back for its first-ever Great White Way revival. This go-around, prepare for a few updates, including brand new choreography by Hamilton’s Andy Blankenbuehler. “So You Think You Can Dance” winner Ricky Ubeda plays the magical Mr. Mistoffelees and New York City Ballet soloist Georgina Pazcoguin appears as Victoria, the graceful “white cat.”

Thanksgiving is a bad day to be a turkey, but a GREAT day to be a Broadway baby: The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade will feature numbers from no fewer than eight musicals this year. And that's something for which we're truly thankful.

We'll see the cast of On Your Feet! kick off the whole shebang, salsa-style. The School of Rock kids will shred on a guitar-shaped float. Fiddler on the Roof's cast will show off Hofesh Shechter's traditional-with-a-twist choreography. We'll get sneak peeks at NBC's The Wiz Live (airing December 3) and Cirque du Soleil's first-ever Broadway show, Paramour (opening this spring). Longer-running Broadway productions—Finding Neverland, The King and I and Something Rotten!—will get moments in the spotlight, too.

On Your Feet! is sure to bring the heat. (photo by Matthew Murphy)

Let's take a moment to be thankful for the very real, very amazing exposure the parade gives these shows: About 23 million people are expected to tune in. (Contrast that with the 6.7 million who caught the Tony Awards back in June.) So odds are good that many folks who thought they were just in it for Jordin Sparks and Santa will be totally in love with musical theater by the end of the broadcast.

(Also: Temps in NYC are supposed to reach the 60s tomorrow—which means you can watch guilt-free, knowing that the frequently half-naked Bway performers aren't smiling through gritted, chattering teeth.)

Catch the parade on NBC from 9 am to noon tomorrow!

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