Behind the Broadway Scenes

An interview with Broadway veterans Lisa Mayer-Lang and Michael Lang

Published Thursday, June 11, 2020 9:00 am

Tell us about yourselves and how your dance careers began.

Lisa: I’m Lisa Mayer-Lang, Artistic Director for Toledo Ballet and I started dancing at the age of six at Toledo Ballet. So, here I am, many years later enjoying myself as the Artistic Director and Director of the School. I went full circle coming back to Toledo. Since I was six years old, I never really stopped dancing. My mom who danced the majority of her life was actually a singer and used to take the adult classes at Toledo Ballet when I was younger. She would always take me along to her classes and sooner or later she signed me up for my first class.

Michael: I’m Michael Lang, Resident Choreographer for Toledo Ballet and I started dancing when I was four years old. When I was younger, I attended some of my sister’s ballet classes and eventually our mother signed me up as well. I started out studying tap, then began taking tumbling lessons, jazz lessons, and around ten years old began studying ballet.

Growing up, I also participated in a lot of musical theater productions. Early on, I used to do a lot of impressions and mimic voices. There was an audition notice at our local community theater for Gypsy. I was six at the time, and they were only taking auditions for kids twelve and older. Ironically, during the audition process, my zealous mother took me anyways and I ended up getting a part. That was the start to my career in musical theater.

Did you both attend summer intensives growing up? If so, what were some of the valuable skills you learned?

Lisa: Yes, I did attend summer intensives growing up. The first one I ever attended was the summer going into freshman year at Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan. At the time, Toledo Ballet did not offer any summer intensives or classes during the off season so I took the initiative to seek opportunities elsewhere. Before I started attending summer intensives, I really missed dancing in those off months. It always took so much time to get back into shape. So, when I got back to Toledo and started running the school, I really wanted to bring these opportunities to our students.

From all of the intensives I attended growing up, I really learned how to work hard and take my abilities to the next level. I was able to gain knowledge from other instructors and kids my age who were just as serious about dance as I was. The work ethic I learned being part of those summer intensives has stuck with me throughout my career.

Michael: I spent a lot of my summers participating in a men and boys choir. When I was fifteen, my dance teacher took us to New York City to study with Luigi Faccuito, one of the greatest jazz dancers of all time. It was so intense. It really pushed me to my limits and showed me what it would take to become a professional dancer.

Were you heavily influenced by a certain instructor or intensive that pushed you to pursue a career in dance?

Lisa: The Ballet West Intensive in Aspen, Colorado was one of the last summer intensives I attended before heading out into the professional dance world. The faculty were the best in the field. The atmosphere was much different from what I was used to. We danced outside next to mountains. It was a complete transformation for me and really inspired me to continue pursuing a career in dance. My love for musical theater began in high school performing in our school productions which is what I ultimately ended up doing for 22 years of my professional career.

Michael: The summer I spent in New York City at the age of fifteen was truly inspiring. After attending a few Broadway shows, I was so inspired that I promised myself that I would be back as a performer. A few years later, I went back to New York at nineteen and went back stage after a production of Into the Woods to see my friend Ben Wright who performed the role of Jack. I started doing pirouettes and Ben said ‘wow, you should be on here!’ and I responded that I was going to be. So, that’s what I did!

What was it like performing on Broadway? Can you tell us about your experiences as professional dancers?

Lisa: It was a dream come true. It took a while to get my voice up to par because I primarily grew up dancing. The auditions were so intense. Often times, there would be six hundred people auditioning for one part. After so many years of hard work, it was truly rewarding and just so much fun. I’ve made lifelong friendships with many cast mates from Broadway.

Michael: My first Broadway production contract was in Los Angeles. They opened a company for Beauty and The Beast out there that was supposed to be the first national tour. It was selling so well that they ended up staying in Los Angeles and opening another Broadway Company. LA was very exciting, and celebrities would attend many of the performances. I’ll never forget the feeling when they called me for the New York City tour. There’s just something about the atmosphere, lights, and energy that was amazing. I loved that part the most, being in the center of it all.  

Can you tell us about your experience performing Beauty and The Beast together on Broadway?

Lisa: Yes, we met during Beauty and The Beast in 1998. That was my third Broadway show. There are so many special memories about that production. Obviously meeting Michael was one of them, but I also got to understudy Belle. Ten months into my contract for another production of Beauty and The Beast I ended up getting to perform the role of Belle at the Kennedy Center.

Michael: During the New York City production of Beauty and The Beast, Lisa was performing the role of the The Enchantress and I was the Young Prince who eventually turned into The Beast. Lisa was lifted very high from the stage and had to throw fireball props down at me on stage. It’s funny, that was one of the first times we had met.

What can musical theater students learn from your dance intensive this summer? What type of skills will you be focusing on?

Lisa: In the past, we’ve presented musical theater workshops where we’ve incorporated dancing, singing, and acting. This year, we decided to go a different route and just focus on dance. We’ve found that students are interested in enhancing their dance skills more than any other area. Our main focus throughout this intensive will be technique. If you don’t have good technique, it’s very difficult to get into any musical theater program or ballet company. That is the base for everything else. The second most important skill we’ll be working on is style. All musical theater students need to be well-rounded and have the ability to dance in many different styles. We’ll also be teaching various combinations that students will be able to perform for their families at the end of the week.

Michael: Lisa actually teaches a class at the University of Michigan called styles. She has a lot of experience learning about different dance styles through her Broadway career and also teaching it to high level musical theater students. One of the most important aspects about musical theater is the ability to move the story-line with the character you portray. That’s a big part of what we’ll be focusing on in our Broadway Dance intensive.

What would you say makes Toledo Ballet’s summer intensive stand out?

Lisa: Michael and I were Broadway performers. We know the steps it takes to get there and love sharing our experiences and knowledge with aspiring musical theater students. My 22-year Broadway career combined with 13 years of teaching experience at the University of Michigan has given me the tools to help students advance to the next level. Dozens of my students have gone on to star on Broadway. Students don’t have to travel far away to get high quality instruction. They can get that right here in Toledo.

Michael: Between the two of us, we have many connections in the performing arts world so our Broadway intensive is a great way for students to network and make connections.

What’s your personal favorite part of summer intensives?

Lisa: I love seeing our students push themselves like they never have before. It’s such a rewarding feeling.

Michael: Seeing the students’ transition from Monday to Friday is really amazing. I love seeing them conquer new skills and advance to another level. The growth is just remarkable.

If you could give a piece of advice for aspiring musical theater students, what would it be?

Lisa: Don’t stop learning. Continue to seek out opportunities to enhance your skills. Nothing can replace good training.

Michael: When it comes down to it, your skills are what matter. It’s important to be strong in all of your abilities. You have to be able to do it all.

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