Stephen Hanna was packing to move back to New York City after teaching for a year in Charleston, South Carolina, when he got a call that he had been booked for a part in the May 28–June 9 production of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway at Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS).
“Big news—we are coming to Texas!” crows his husband, Bret Shuford, who is eager for a return visit to his hometown.
Hanna, a dancer, and Shuford, an actor, are known on social media as “The Broadway Husbands” whose adventures are enjoyed by a lively online following. Fans can follow the couple as they depart Charleston for Houston on May 6, then return to the Big Apple on June 9 to teach at a summer musical-theater intensive for triple-threat performers.
Hanna has never seen Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, which is understandable since TUTS is only the second playhouse in the world to nab the rights to the show since it toured the U.S. after winning the 1989 Tony Award for Best Musical. However, he’s danced the “Suite of Dances” for West Side Story, and he performed a pas de deux during the song “Lonely Town” in the 2014 Broadway revival of On the Town.
Production numbers from those musicals, along with other American classics such as Peter Pan, Gypsy, and Fiddler on the Roof are all featured in Jerome Robbins’ Broadway. Other famous shows include The King and I, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and High Button Shoes.
Jerome Robbins’ Broadway was selected as the final presentation of TUTS’ 50th-anniversary season.
“Over the course of our 50-year history, we’ve done many of these classic musicals that were so beautifully choreographed by Jerome Robbins,” says Dan Knechtges, the artistic director at TUTS. “To cap off this celebratory season, we couldn’t choose just one, so we’re doing them all.”
“I think it’s a great choice,” says Hanna, “because so many different shows are represented. You get to see all of these great shows in one big evening. They are iconic. Everyone knows them, whether you know it or not. People will be saying, ‘Oh, that’s right. This is from that show.’”
Hanna knows for certain that he will dance in the “Mr. Monotony” trio from Miss Liberty, a 1949 Irving Berlin show, and also pop up in other musical numbers. “Everyone plays several different roles,” he says.
Jerome Robbins’ Broadway premiered in 1989 with a cast of 62, including narration by Jason Alexander, a little-known actor who won the Tony for Best Leading Actor in a Musical, defeating co-star Robert La Fosse, a Beaumont native. That same year, Alexander began playing dumb-ass George Costanzo on TV’s Seinfeld.
Hanna grew up in a borough of Pittsburgh, where he began dancing at age 3 because “two little girls were taking classes with a woman down the street, so I did, too.”
By age 7, he was dancing ballet. “I don’t know that I loved it, but I definitely liked it early on,” he says. When his parents got him a video of Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland in The Nutcracker, Hanna decided “That’s what I want to do.”
When he was 12, Hanna spent a summer studying at the School of American Ballet, which is associated with the prestigious New York City Ballet where Hanna would become a principal dancer. Robbins and fellow choreographer George Balanchine co-founded the group. Shortly before Robbins died in 1998, he returned to City Ballet to stage Les Noces.
“He was so hands-on,” says Hanna, recalling what it was like to be in the same room as the legendary Robbins. “Mostly, I was scared.”
In 2011, when he married Shuford, Hanna was playing Older Billy in the original Broadway cast of Billy Elliot the Musical by Elton John. The adaptation of Stephen Daldry’s 2000 movie won 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
“I always forget that Billy Elliot’s story is so similar to mine,” says Hanna. “Both of us came from a steel town. My father was not a coal miner, and his father was not supportive [of his dancing] at first, but there are parallels with my own life.”
The TUTS production of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway is directed by Cynthia Onrubia, who was Robbins’ assistant for the original New York production.
In the past year, both Hanna and Shuford were adjunct professors at the College of Charleston, with Hanna choreographing the fall dance concert and Shuford directing Urinetown, along with performing his one-man cabaret show Charming: A Tale of an American Prince.
For further information about the Houston production of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, visit www.tuts.com.
This article appears in the May 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine.