Growing up in a household that encouraged trying new activities until he found his thing, Michael Callahan (Aladdin, Cinderella) (he/him/his) eventually found a love for tap dancing. From there he went into hip-hop classes and eventually jazz dance classes. Living in Louisville, he had the opportunity to attend a performing arts high school. It was there he met his mentor and teacher, Gail Benedict, a top Broadway dancer in the 1970s and 1980s, who inspired him to enter the musical theatre world. After high school, Michael enrolled at Elon University to pursue a BFA in Theatre.
During his senior year, he auditioned for the National Tour of Cinderella, but heard nothing until they reached out to him a year later for a spot on the Broadway production of the show. “My initial audition got me on the shortlist for that role in Cinderella on Broadway” Michael recalls. “It helped my understanding that a no now is not a no forever. It’s sometime about how you fit in the puzzle.” Michael performed in the Broadway Company for the last six months of the production, and later closed out the last six months of the National Tour.
Michael also auditioned for Aladdin during his senior year. While he was told that they didn’t see him in the mix at that time, he eventually came back again to audition for Omar, one of Aladdin’s friends. Before the audition, Michael had choreographed Fiorello Off-Broadway, which had a feature in the New York Times that morning. “I walk into my audition and they were like did we read about you in the New York Times today? They then asked me if I would be interested in dance captaining Aladdin.” Michael enthusiastically said yes.
But what is a “Dance Captain”? “The Dance Captain’s job is to maintain the integrity and quality of the dance in the show throughout its run. That includes teaching new cast members the show, everything from principles to ensemble members. If there is music, I am teaching them what they are doing. I was also a swing in Aladdin, so I wasn’t always physically in the show each night.”
While the choreographer helps create the show, they are often moving to other projects, so the dance captain maintains the choreography in each show. The choreographer may come back every four to six months to check-in, clean up choreography, make changes, etc.
Michael is also Dance Supervisor for Aladdin – Mexico City. “My job is to take the entire production of Aladdin and set it on the Mexico City cast. Now that choreographer, Casey Nicholaw, has created Aladdin, he can’t be at all the new locations, so he sends a Resident Director and a Dance Supervisor to teach the show from the ground up. He’ll then come to the new production for tech week or right before.” Michael will be back in the Broadway Company of Aladdin when it reopens, before going down to Mexico City as the Dance Supervisor of that production.
What has Michael been up to during the pandemic? He created The Love Project, an episodic dance film. “I love Valentine’s Day and wanted to create a series of love stories through dance. But on top of that, I wanted to test the waters of creating things safely during COVID, pre-vaccine. I wanted to create something that was inclusive and diverse, rather than just talking about it.”
“I reached out to ten other choreographers. We raised money to get these amazing videographers to shoot everything for us. Eventually the Love Is project reached out, and we collaborated and interviewed both couples and individuals and had clips between the dances. It ended up being this 50-minute love fest of both dance and interviews and ended up touching a large spectrum of what love is and can be. It was the highlight artistic experience of my COVID journey. I’ve made connections with people I have yet to ever meet and we are each other’s biggest champions.”
What’s been on Michael’s mind lately? “I did a poll on my Instagram a couple months ago: what is one musical you think should be retired or archived and what is one musical you think needs to be completely re-conceptualized? People voted and we had all sorts of ideas. The results? We are done with Carousel. People really want to see Guys and Dolls re-conceptualized. It’s been fun to think about how we would mess up that show without making it a new show. Or think about how you would redo The Music Man? Exploring on your own how you would do it doesn’t mean it will be done, but it’s fun, and we have to start thinking about a lot of shows that we think of as classics and how they will exist now in ways that will be appropriate.”