(From left) Alex Newell, John Clarence Stewart, Jane Levy, Skylar Astin, and Lauren Graham in "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist," courtesy NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Mandy Moore Puts Dance in the Spotlight in NBC's Newest Series, "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist"

Imagine living in a real-life musical, where spontaneous song-and-dance breaks happen as often in the street as they do onstage. After a series of unusual events, every dancers' dream becomes an unexpected reality for computer coder Zoey Clarke (played by Jane Levy) in NBC's newest series, "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist." Although at first her new powers catch Zoey off guard, when she learns to embrace them, she's able to connect with the world around her like never before.

And the best part? Every musical mashup puts incredible dancing front and center, thanks in large part to series choreographer and all around dance-for-the-screen extraordinaire, Mandy Moore. Dance Spirit chatted with Moore about choreographing for the dance-driven series, which returns to NBC with all-new episodes this Sunday, February 16 at 9/8c.

Dance Spirit: How did you first get on board with "Zoey"?

Mandy Moore: One of the show's executive producers, Austin Winsberg, sent me the script for the pilot and said that he'd love to have me on board. The script was so magical and fun, and as I was reading it I could really see in my head how dance would fit into the world of the show. I immediately called Austin back and said I was in. We started meeting about a month before shooting the pilot, where we would sit for hours and just talk about dance and watch dance videos. Dance is hard to talk about and dissect if you're not a dancer, so those meetings were really important in helping me shape in my mind what needed to happen in the show. From there, we just hit the ground running.

DS: After choreographing La La Land, you're probably one of the few people truly qualified to work on massive outdoor dance numbers! Has that experience helped you with your work on "Zoey"?

MM: Yes! I really like creating location-based numbers, moving big groups of people around, and thinking about what the camera shots will be. So much of that goes hand-in-hand—I can create a whole dance, but if it's not shot correctly then it may not translate on camera. "Zoey" is unique because dance isn't in the background with some cool moves here and there–it's really integrated into the storytelling language of the whole show. It's been interesting to figure out the timing and nuance of every scene, from the simplest routines to more than fifty people dancing through the streets. It's so cool to have all those different kinds of performances in one episode.

Mandy Moore at the "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist" premiere (Chris Haston, courtesy NBC)

DS: What's your process like for creating the dance numbers in each episode?

MM: I get a lot of information early on in script development, which makes my job much easier. Next we'll have dance concept meetings, where we sit and talk about the initial thoughts and feelings Austin and the director have about each number. I then elaborate on that working with my skeleton crew, a group of dancers that I do pre-production work with. At that point, I'll also collaborate with Harvey Mason Jr., our executive music producer, as he's creating the tracks for the episode. Finally, I'll shoot a video of what we have and send it to the team. Luckily, they've been really happy with what I've done so far, so once that's signed off, I start rehearsing with the actors and talent. There's not much time by then, so we have to teach it really quickly and then shoot it.

DS: Speaking of talent, you've gotten to work with so many different dancers on the show!

MM: The scenes range so much, from one person to eight, to some numbers with over 70 dancers. When we last wrapped, we had something like 400-plus dancer contracts. I love that we were able to employ dancers like that–it's a great thing for our community.

The cast of "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist" dancing it out (Sergei Bachlakov, courtesy NBC)

DS: And what was it like working with the lead actors in the show–Jane Levy, Lauren Graham, Alex Newell, John Clarence Stewart–so much great talent!

MM: Luckily, the entire cast was very gung-ho about dance and enthusiastic about rehearsing, which I loved! They all have varying levels of dance experience, and each actor has their own little dance language, which was fun for me to discover. Creating dance scenes in "Zoey" was very different from what I've done with "So You Think You Can Dance" or "Dancing With The Stars." Whereas as dancers, we're trained from the outside-in, and want to make sure everything looks "right" or has the right dynamic, actors bring a different mentality to movement that's all about feeling first. I didn't even have mirrors where we rehearsed for "Zoey," because I didn't want anyone to worry about what they looked like. I could fix their shapes as needed, but I cared more about working through the backstory of each number and creating the right tension with a tinge of dance in each moment, even with something as simple as someone walking through their house.

The cast of "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist" posing on the red carpet (Chris Haston, courtesy NBC/Universal

DS: What can our readers look forward to on February 16?

MM: Tons of dancing and music! The way dance lives in the show is unlike anything else I've seen on TV. The writing is brilliant and very funny, but also heartwarming and emotional–it's great storytelling. The characters are bold and fun, and very relatable. People will see a lot of the situations that we work through in the show paralleled in their own lives.

DS: And are you working on anything else at the moment that you can share?

MM: Always. The very next morning after we wrapped "Zoey," I flew home and did a commercial. And I just got back from Australia where I guest judged for "Dancing with the Stars." So, I don't really sleep, but that's okay.

DS: One more question: If you had musical powers like Zoey's in the show, what songs would make it onto your own Extraordinary Playlist?

MM: I really love "Celebration" by Kool & the Gang. That's how I feel every day when I wake up! And also, "All I Do Is Win," by DJ Khaled, which is in the first episode of the show. I think people should just strut around singing that song all the time–then we'd really be nailing it in life.

Latest Posts

Courtesy Hollywood Vibe

These Dance Comps and Conventions Are Coming to a Living Room Near You

While dancers all over the world are sharing the heartache of canceled classes, shows, and projects, our hearts hurt especially hard for a group of dancers we at Dance Spirit couldn't admire more: comp and convention kids. Determined to challenge your artistry and learn from cutting-edge faculty, you dancers normally brave crowded ballrooms and nonstop schedules all year long. But just because you might not be in one of those crowded ballrooms for a while doesn't mean that part of your dance life has to grind to a halt.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
An instructor from The Hive in Chicago leads class over Zoom (courtesy The Hive)

The Dance Student's Guide to Making the Best—and the Most—of At-Home Training

If you're social distancing to do your part to slow the spread of COVID-19, you've inevitably realized that training safely and successfully at home poses a significant challenge. We talked to dance experts to find out how you can make the best of this less-than-ideal scenario—and about the unexpected ways it can help you grow as a dancer and artist.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Courtney Celeste Spears in the kitchen (courtesy AAADT)

6 Top Dancers' Favorite Recipes to Inspire You in the Kitchen

You've been working hard to keep up with your dance training during this period of uncertainty and isolation. Still, your days are probably not as full as they used to be. Many professional dancers enjoy preparing their own meals and snacks, and you could benefit from grabbing your pots and pans, as well. Cooking can be a stress reliever, and learning a new skill can challenge your brain in a different way. Plus, if you're making your own meals, you know what you're putting into your dancer body.

We asked six dancers who are as talented in the kitchen as they are onstage to share a go-to recipe. Follow their lead, and you may soon have a new favorite recipe of your own.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Enter the Cover Model Search