Rehearsals started exactly a week ago, and here is a list of things I can do on stilts:  time step, shimmy, chassee, grapevine, pivot step.  I have the music theatre basics DOWN.  I can also do several different types of walks: stroll through the park, jog in the park, “sneaky-sneaky,” and “dirty little gypsy.”  Most mornings at ten we have stilt class.  It lasts an hour and is conducted like a regular dance class.  We start with a warm-up created by our physical therapy team that makes sense in some places (hundreds, runner’s lunge) and not in others (push-ups, contractions).  Then Warren, the choreographer, shouts, “Suit up, people!  We’re goin’ in!”  and we all climb onto our high stools to strap ourselves into our stilts.

Warren and his assistant Parker then lead us through a series of steps.  We warm up in the center, then move across the floor, finishing with a combination, just like a jazz class would.   First we march.  When Warren shouts out, “Exit!”  And we all have to face the exit while marching.  Then he’ll go, “Dog it!”  And we all have to march to face the back wall, which is covered with pictures of various breeds of dog.  Next, “Window,” then back to the front with “Mirror.”  This goes on for about five minutes, with Warren switching up the directions in a sort of stilted Simon Says:  “Mirror!  Window!  Dog it!  Mirror!  Dog it!  Exit!”  We invariably futz up, but no one’s fallen.  Yet.

Then we walk across the floor.  “Sneaky, sneaky,” or, as it’s sometimes called, “Cheeky, cheeky,” requires one to walk on the tips of one’s stilts as if one were a cat burglar or, in this case, a dog thief.  It’s a strange feeling to get used to.  Lately, we’ve been doing cheeky, cheeky backwards, while Warren cries out encouragement, using the various nicknames he’s quick to assign to us  (I do not have one yet.)  “Good, Bob!  Steal the puppies!  Steal the puppies!”  Bob’s name is Garreth.  Dirty little gypsy requires us to lunge forward in the stilt and sort of drag the other leg behind us.  Warren has Parker demonstrate as he calls out in his London accent:  “Stroll, stroll, stroll, stroll, dirty little gypsy, dirty little gypsy, dirty little gypsy, dirty little gypsy.”  Today we had a new challenge: quick-stepping with a mannequin on wheels.

I do love Warren and Parker and their other assistant, Sarah, who is a tiny, beautiful English dancer.  I realized today I sort of wish I were her (she).  And I like myself, so that’s saying something.   As for Warren, I love his turn of phrase, plus I love that he refers to the kids in the cast as devil children.  (Even though, truth be told, they’re not.)  He gives us notes like (imagine this in an English accent), “Use your arms to help hurl your carcass off the floor,” or to the kids once, “When Park or Sarah hits you on the back of the head, get up and dance.”  The choreography is balletic (my favorite), mixed with shameless music theatreness, such as the aforementioned grapevine and jazz hands (or in this case, jazz paws).

We’ve been spending most of our time dancing or learning music.  Our composer/lyricist is a former member of the band Styx, which I’m not familiar with, although everyone assures me I am.  He attends every music rehearsal and loves to jump in and tweak things: he’ll change a lyric here, a note there, add a rest or another bar, and sometimes coach us on how to sound more “pop.”  It’s kind of neat creating a show.  He isn’t intimidating at all, despite the fact that he wears the requisite sunglasses all the time (although I think there could be a medical reason), and he’s actually quite funny in a musician sort of way.  Today he walked into rehearsal with five metrosexuals in office wear.  “These gentlemen are from the CIA,” he announced.  “They’ve received reports that we’re torturing singers.”  We all laughed, then he said, “No, seriously, they’re from the Thanksgiving parade.  They’re just here to hear some of the music.”

Now, I’m the swing.  Before my mom or anyone freaks out, I probably wouldn’t be on TV even if we were chosen for the parade, unless I were to start rolling marbles down stairs.  Incidentally, we’re scheduled to be in Texas at that point, so I don’t know how that would work out.  But still, it was very exciting.  We sang “Twilight Barking.”  Now doesn’t that sound like a lovely song?  There’s no woofing, by the way.  The dogs speak English with various British dialects throughout the play.

Speaking of dialects, and even though it’s completely off topic, don’t miss out on Spike Lee’s movie of Passing Strange.  If you missed it on Broadway, as I did, run to the IFC if you’re in New York and check it out.  If you’re not in New York, move.  Or at least visit.  It’s the final performance of Passing Strange captured on film and it was simply amazing: one of the best things, if not the best thing, I’ve seen all year.  Also really loved In the Loop, a British farcical satire about the UK/US decision to invade an unnamed Middle Eastern country.  Hilarious, but absolutely rated R.  Profanity is an art form for these people, and you will guffaw.

One final recommendation:  couldn’t put down Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger.  Andre will attest that it held me captive for the last couple of days with a Harry Potter-like tenacity.  I kept it in my purse, even though it’s a tome, and at restaurants when Andre went to the bathroom, he’d come back to find me reading just one more page… call your library.  Hook it up.

Stay tuned for more updates.