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  • Writer's pictureKristyn Burtt

Choreographer Sonya Tayeh's Broadway Dreams Soar with 'Rent: Live'

Updated: Apr 22, 2020

So You Think You Can Dance fans know Sonya Tayeh for her challenging, but heartfelt choreography. Now audiences will have the opportunity to see her dive into the musical theatre world with FOX's Rent: Live, and later this year with Moulin Rouge on Broadway.

Several years ago, Tayeh made a conscious career choice to focus her efforts on theatre, so she packed up and moved from Los Angeles to New York to make her Broadway dreams come true. The Rent: Live event is a terrific blend of her live TV skills from SYTYCD and her latest efforts in musical theatre. Tayeh came to the project in a very organic way. 

"I heard it was happening. I met [director] Michael [Grief] a week prior to the announcement, which I think was serendipitous," Tayeh told Dance Dish at the Rent: Live press junket. "When I found out it was happening, I called my agent asking if they had a choreographer. Two days later, Michael called. It was an unforgettable moment."

Tackling a property like Rent is no easy task for a choreographer, given the fact that the fan base is very devoted to the original 1996 production. Rent-heads have seen the show thousands of times, but Tayeh promised us that her interpretation honors the classic moments.

"I watched Rent over and over remembered why I loved it so much. What I think is iconic I held on to, and what I wanted to pay homage to, I did," she explained. "From there, we rebuilt. That's how I had to approach it. It's timeless for a reason. What are those reasons to me seeing it as a mover in motion? It's a way to say thank you to the original production."

One of the biggest dance moments in the show is the "La Vie Boheme" number that is a swirling motion of chairs, bodies and table centered around a key moment in the show. Tayeh was very specific about how she tackled this piece.

"'La Vie Boheme' is a song about freedom, desire, passion, individual self-expression, sexual revolution — all of that is in there. We are saying this is what we want, don't censor me," Tayeh revealed."We have an incredible ensemble of 14, which is the biggest ensemble for a production of Rent. That's been something to push and elevate even more inside of 'La Vie Boheme' and other sections of the movement. The live element in all of this is important, too. It's exciting!"

One of the best parts of her job was having an ensemble of dancers she has worked with before. Familiar faces include SYTYCD All-Stars Robert Roldan and Sasha Mallory, along with Season 15 winner Hannahlei Cabanilla, whose prize package from the show included a role in Rent: Live.

"I handpicked the ensemble. I was talking to Michael and he said I could handpick them. I told him, 'Give me five minutes! It was a very swift decision, I knew who I wanted to be a part of this with me.' It was a really big treat," Tayeh smiled. "It hardly ever happens. I am very grateful to Michael for granting me that. You feel safe when you're scared and have a lot of stress because you have these familiar faces who've worked with you before around you."

Sunday's live show is going to be a big moment for Tayeh because everything she steered her career toward is coming together in 2019.

"It's a complete dream. I worked really, really hard and I made a scary decision to move from Los Angeles to New York because I fell in love with theatre," she said. "I can't believe that Moulin Rouge is my first Broadway production."

With a busy year ahead, she hopes to keep a week open for Season 16 on SYTYCD, but her schedule is pretty tight. 

"I finish Rent, I fly home and the next day is Moulin Rouge auditions," Tayeh said. "I am so happy. I can't believe this is my life. I am very, very grateful."


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