Choreographer Jennifer Weber proves her versatility on Broadway
This interview is part of New York Theatre Guide's Road to the Tonys series on artists whose unique or long journeys with their show culminated in a nomination.
Jennifer Weber grew up teaching herself the choreography from music videos and the Tony Awards. Now, she's creating it.
Well, sort of. She isn't exactly choreographing a video or an awards ceremony. But in October 2022, she made her Broadway debut with two musicals that opened within two weeks of each other: the Shakespeare-meets-pop show & Juliet and the concert-within-a-musical KPOP. Both shows are heavily influenced by pop music and dance styles — & Juliet by the mainstream American pop of the '90s and '00s, and KPOP by Korean pop — that the MTV generation grew up watching in countless music videos. Both shows also earned Weber 2023 Tony Award nominations for Best Choreography.
KPOP only lasted two months on Broadway, and with so many spring shows opening since, short-lived fall productions run the risk of being forgotten. But Weber made an instant impact on audiences by perfectly capturing the ultra-precise language of K-pop dance, creating seamless group numbers for fictional K-pop groups that flowed like well-oiled machines. Her "invaluable, crisp dance moves slice[d] the air like razors," wrote New York Theatre Guide's critic.
Shortly after, she debuted her "athletic" & Juliet choreography, which is still pumping up the pop musical's exuberant energy at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre eight times a week and perhaps helped to keep Weber fresh in the Tony nominators' minds. Those moves are also pop-inspired, but Weber's no one-trick pony. & Juliet and KPOP called for a "similar explosive energy," and that's where the parallels end.
"KPOP was about filming a concert documentary. The numbers are performance numbers, whereas the numbers in & Juliet are very much in the world of the story and storytelling," Weber explained. "[& Juliet's] movement is expressing emotion and pushing the story forward and getting at [ ] what's in the subtext."
Additionally, KPOP required Weber to research and collaborate with a Korean-born associate, MJ Choi, to get the style just right. She "didn't have to research" for & Juliet.
"That's just the movement that I grew up on," Weber said. "Of all the things I've ever choreographed in my career, & Juliet is the most me. My movement, my style, my vibes on stage, translated through all these incredible humans."
Weber's body-and-soul investment in her craft has propelled her into the ranks of giants. Her fellow nominees are Tony winner and 13-time nominee Casey Nicholaw (Some Like It Hot), five-time winner Susan Stroman (New York, New York), and five-time nominee Steven Hoggett (Sweeney Todd) — "my idols of choreography," Weber said.
"To hear those three names, and then hear my name — I literally jumped up out of my chair, and I was like, 'Yes!' Then I heard my name a second time, and I fell back down."
Weber gave this entire interview with such excitement and animation, one would never guess she was once a self-proclaimed "really, really, really, really shy" kid. "I never spoke in class, and when I found dance, that's when I felt like I could speak and felt so confident in this language," Weber remembered.
She went to the University of Pennsylvania for communications, but auditioned for all the campus dance troupes to keep the art form in her life — and got rejected from every one. "I was not very good at dancing, actually," she admitted with a laugh. So she founded her own campus dance troupe, Strictly Funk, and honed her choreography skills as its leader. (The club still exists at UPenn today.)
Weber's journey sounds nontraditional, which she readily admits - "I wasn't a dancer who became [a choreographer's] assistant and then an associate and then a choreographer," she said. But though her path doesn't look like other dancers', it's proof that there's no one way to Broadway or to the Tonys.
It's also actually not a dissimilar path to those of her fellow nominees. Both Hoggett and Stroman went to college for literature before establishing dance careers, and now they're some of the most in-demand creators in the business. If her dual nomination is any indication, Weber is poised to mimic that success, too.
Get & Juliet tickets now.
Photo credit: Jennifer Weber. (Photo by Maria Baranova)
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