Choreographer Lorin Latarro, rock's whisperer on Broadway, gives flight to the Who and Huey Lewis

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NEW YORK (AP) — The quintessential rock musical "The Who’s Tommy" is thrillingly alive again on Broadway. And just a few blocks away is a new rock show featuring music by Huey Lewis and the News.

The connecting tissue between them is the in-demand choreographer Lorin Latarro, known for her bespoke approach and a fluency when it comes to rock.

“When you try and be literal with rock ‘n’ roll music, you’re you’re in trouble because the beauty of rock ‘n’ roll lyrics are that they live in metaphor,” she says. “I think dance, by definition, is a metaphor. So dance and rock actually are really great mates.”

Latarro's muscular, fluid and modern dance style — including having one of the child actors playing Tommy twirled and flipped like pizza dough — is born from the love and respect that only comes from a former member of the ensemble.

“I love dancers. I think dancers are extraordinary people and extraordinary artists who are doing it because they like the feeling of flying and the feeling of dancing," she says. "They’re certainly not doing it for the money or the fame.”

Latarro has a special knack for working with rockers. In addition to shaping shows for Lewis and Pete Townshend this season, she's also put Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong and Melissa Etheridge into “American Idiot,” and helped Trey Anastasio and Sara Bareilles achieve their Broadway dreams. Next up: Working with the band Train on a new musical.

“Probably other than maybe Twyla Tharp, she’s the most articulate choreographer I’ve ever come across,” says “The Who's Tommy” Tony-winning director Des McAnuff, who first worked with Latarro in a 2009 revival of “Guys and Dolls.” He calls her very collaborative and always open.

“She’s hungry for feedback, for input. And when we’re in the room, we go back and forth like it’s tag team wrestling. Either of us can step up and put hands up, so I can’t say enough about her.”

For “Tommy,” Latarro uses the ensemble to move the sets, pull and the carry the adult Tommy around, menace the pinball wizard and twirl the mute and blind young actors playing Tommys around.

“It’s so funny because Des was like, ‘I think you’re asking too much of these kids.’ And I was like, ‘I have a 6-year-old. Have you seen a 6-year-old lately? They can do everything.’”

Time Out called her the show's “most valuable player,” saying she helps make the musical into a dance show and “Latarro comes through with remarkable numbers — the Broadway season’s best choreography to date.”

Latarro grew up in New Jersey determined at an early age to do what she loved. “I was always a dancer. In first grade. I told everybody I was going to be a dancer,” she says.

She sometimes skipped school to take the bus into New York to take dance classes at Broadway Dance Center or see shows. She saw the musical revue “Black and Blue” 11 times.

“I met one of the dancers and the girls took me backstage and they put eyelashes on me, and that was it. They were so nice and they just changed my life.”

She graduated from The Juilliard School and danced in 14 Broadway shows, including “Fosse,” “Swing!,” “A Chorus Line” and “Movin’ Out.” She also was a member of such companies as Robert Wilson, Martha Graham and MOMIX.

“I love all kinds of movement and as a dancer, my goal was to never get pigeonholed,” she says. “My goal as a choreographer is sort of similar: I’m not interested in having a style that looks like one specific style. I’m more interested in creating movement that really speaks to the story.”

Her choreography credits include “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," ”Hands on a Hardbody" and “Waitress,” Bareilles' adaptation of a 2007 film about a waitress and pie-maker trapped in a small-town diner and a loveless marriage.

For “Waitress,” Latarro had onstage a group of soon-to-be-delivering moms moving to the heartbeats of their babies, and three waitresses singing as they add real ingredients to a pie mixture.

In one number, the heroine performs various fantasies, like winning a pie baking contest, being thrown a suitcase and clothes for an attempt to flee and floating in the air with her lover. Latarro was inspired by reading an article about the importance of daydreaming.

“No one in the audience really wants to see choreography about ingredients and pie making. What is she thinking about?” she says. “She’s thinking about escaping her marriage, and she’s thinking about running away. And she’s thinking about making out with this sexy doctor. All of a sudden it unlocked the staging.”

Latarro usually starts with the text and thinks about what the characters are feeling and what she needs to communicate to the audience. Only later does she listen to the music.

That formula didn't exactly work with “The Heart of Rock and Roll,” Lewis' new musical. Latarro knew every word to every single Huey Lewis song. “I had posters of Huey on my wall that I kissed before I went to sleep at night,” she says.

The show, which tells the story of a on a blue-collar guy hoping to make a last stab at a career in music, is constructed from existing Lewis’ songs like “Hip to Be Square” and “If This Is It."

Latarro's dancers leap and race across the stage, do tricks and get to be silly and also atmospheric. "They get to show off," Latarro says.

“Their job in this show is to be buoyant and super physical and help with the joy of it and definitely help with the storytelling.”

Count her one-time crush among Latarro's admirers.

“Watching Lorin work has been just a revelation,” says Lewis. “These dancers are amazing and they get way up off the ground. It’s quite something to watch.”


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