Renegade, Corvette Corvette, Do It Again, Savage… the 2022 dance call for St. Louis’s MUNY. Once again, musical theatre has taken over TikTok, with its latest viral dance sensation coming from a most unusual source.
Confused? For those
over the age of 30 unfamiliar with TikTok, here’s a brief explainer: TikTok is a social media network built around short-form videos, the bulk of which are a minute or under. “Creators” can make their own videos using the soundtrack from other videos, making the platform ripe for covers, riffs, one-ups—every sort of collaboration you can imagine. One novel idea quickly and easily gives birth to hundreds of other videos piggybacking on the original, which can lead to an otherwise disparate community of creators group-composing a musical based on Disney and Pixar’s film Ratatouille or dance crazes that suddenly all Gen Zs seem to know.
But the latest TikTok dance trend did not come from a TikTok creator. Originally designed as a combination for performers to film themselves doing as a video audition for The MUNY’s upcoming summer season, choreographer William Carlos Angulo’s energetic and athletic steps to “Legally Blonde (Remix)” from the 2007 Broadway musical Legally Blonde quickly went viral when performers began posting their audition videos to the platform, racking up hundreds of thousands of views in the process.
“I had recorded my video and submitted it,” shares one such performer, Jonathan Duvelson (@jonathanduvelson on TikTok), “and I was feeling really good about the audition. It’s such a fun combo to do. Audition videos are always the ones that [do well for me]. For some reason, people want to see me dance musical theatre.”
And Duvelson isn’t surprised the combo went viral. To him, it’s all about the the choreography.
“It sits in a pocket. [William] is a genius because not only is the choreography fun and flirty and athletic, but it’s also punny.” Duvelson is speaking to some silly flourishes Angulo choreographed to ensemble exclamations on words like “dog” and “bag” during the song.
@jonathanduvelson Okay this audition combo was actually fire @The Muny #selftape #dance #musicaltheatre #legallyblonde ♬ Legally Blonde (Remix) - Kate Shindle & Laura Bell Bundy & 'Legally Blonde' Ensemble & Natalie Joy Johnson
“I wanted it to be fun,” shares Angulo, who, ironically, does not have any social media presence. “I wanted it to be joyful because recording something in your living room can be kind of a soul sucking endeavor, and people have been doing it for a couple of years now. It was really important to me that it was something that felt fun and would feel good to accomplish, and it seems like that’s how people are feeling, so we’re pretty happy.”
“It’s a struggle,” adds Duvelson. “Learning choreography not in-person is hard. Filming yourself a million times, [instead of] when you’re actually at an audition in-person and you do it and it’s over, is a lot. I feel like it was a unifying moment for our community. We were like, ‘Oh, wait—We’re all going through this at the same time.’”
But the MUNY didn’t plan these video auditions as a viral marketing ploy. According to MUNY President and CEO Kwofe Coleman, the online shift was purely because of COVID.
“It was a result of what is the safest, best way for the most people to have access to be able to audition. For any show we want to cast that net as wide as possible, to as many people as want to have a chance to be seen.”
Coleman and Angulo are also very clear that the MUNY is not casting its season via TikTok videos. Hopefuls had to submit their videos at MUNY.org, though submissions are now closed. The TikTok posts are just for fun.
And they point to a silver lining to moving auditions online: access.
“It’s a beautiful event,” says Angulo. “We see people in their living rooms and in rural parts of the United States absolutely murdering this combination. And then I click on their résumé and I’m like, this person must go to one of these big schools or they must be based in a big city somewhere, and it’s somebody brand new who’s never really had access to the industry in this way before. That’s been really exciting to me.”
“We’ve learned that online auditions are a door opener,” adds Coleman, who was promoted to lead the company earlier this year following a tenure of more than a decade that began with being hired as a staff accountant. “To audition here, you have to buy a flight, you have to stay overnight—there’s a cost associated with it that doesn’t have anything to do with your ability to dance or perform.”
And that concept was born out in Duvelson’s very real experience. “Pre-pandemic, I went to that 2020 MUNY audition. I drove from New Jersey to St. Louis overnight. My car broke down twice on the way, two flat tires. When we got to St. Louis, I had to get a whole new tire before the audition. Auditions went great, no problem. On the way back, two more flat tires. It ended up being a $3,000 trip for a two-day audition.”
Cost savings are also how Duvelson came to record his audition on a public basketball court across the street from his apartment. “A studio rental can go from anywhere from $20 an hour to $40 an hour, depending on where you end up going. I work a minimum wage job where I make $15 an hour, so sometimes I’m like, ‘I’m gonna do this one outside.’”
To Angulo, the plus is all about finding a more diverse cast in every sense of that word, part of the theatre’s commitment to equity and inclusion.
“I’m always looking for people who are the extreme versions of one another, people who are very different from me. As I’m going through these videos and I see someone who’s a unique type, or I see somebody who is clearly from a very different background from me, that’s what I’m looking for.”
This focus extended into how Angulo planned both the combination and the teaching and example videos that were provided to auditioners, which featured Angulo and dancers Alora Tonielle Martinez, Matthew Rivera, and Natalia Nieves Melchor.
“Natalia is a big contemporary dancer. Matthew is a salsero, and does hip-hop. Alora is a waacker and she’s big in the ballroom scene in New York. They all have different dance backgrounds, and they’re all very different from me. It was important to me to show them as a group all doing the same combination. They served as my beta test as far as accessibility goes. If this combination looks great on these people who are very different from me, then we’re doing something right.”
“This way’s just more efficient, and we’re not gatekeeping anymore,” says Duvelson. “It used to be if you can make it to the MUNY, you can audition. Now it’s if you can watch a video online and learn the choreography, you can audition.”
And does Angulo have any special tips for those posting their take on his dance online?
“Seeing the creativity that people are really infusing into this, seeing their sense of play—that’s really what we’re looking for. At the MUNY, you have to put the show up so fast, so we’re looking for people that can really bring a strong point of view to the work, and that’s what’s been exciting the most about these videos, so I guess I just encourage people to lean into that.”