Choreographer Spencer Liff Is ‘Head Over Heels’ For His Latest Broadway Show
Updated: Apr 20, 2020
Broadway choreographer Spencer Liff is well known to So You Think You Can Dance viewers. His musical theatre numbers on SYTYCD have twice earned him Emmy nominations in 2012 and 2015.
This Broadway season, Spencer is working on a brand new musical, Head Over Heels, which features the music of The Go-Go’s. It’s anything but an ordinary jukebox musical because the 1980s music is blended with iambic-pentameter dialogue in this colorful Elizabethan-era comedy.
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Spencer spent some time with Dance Dish recently to share his excitement surrounding the Gwyneth Paltrow-produced musical and give insight as to whether his busy schedule would allow him to appear on SYTYCD for Season 15.
It’s been a long journey with Head Over Heels for Spencer, who came across the script “four or five years ago.”
“It was right around the time I was looking for a new musical to get attached to that would wind up on Broadway,” he explains. “My manager [Victoria Morris] was scouring for material that was cool, fresh and different. I read the first four pages and I called Victoria and said, ‘This is going to change my life.’ ”
The musical had a different director at the time, but the timing of the show went up against Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which Spencer was scheduled to work on with Neil Patrick Harris. Coincidentally, the job went to fellow SYTYCD choreographer, Sonya Tayeh, for the pre-Broadway tryout at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
After that version of the show didn’t grab audiences, a new team was assembled, led by Hedwig director Michael Mayer. He had read the script and knew that Spencer was the perfect choreographer for the project.
“I stopped dead in my tracks. I didn’t do Head Over Heels initially because I was working with Michael,” he explains. “But if I hadn’t worked with Michael, the show wouldn’t have ended up in my life the way it did. It’s so affirming that things happen the way they are supposed to.”
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For Head Over Heels, Spencer has Ellenore Scott by his side as his associate choreographer. SYTYCD fans will remember her from Season 6 where she placed in the Top 4. This is the second show they’ve worked on together after creating stage movement for the Falsettos revival in 2016.
“It’s funny having Ellenore along with me. She was my second number on SYTYCD, but my first good number on the show,” he laughs. “The show has created so many long-lasting relationships. I love having her by my side.”
The hard part for the duo came down to casting because Head Over Heels very specifically required triple threats — actors, singers and dancers.
“I was a crazy person about casting this show because I knew exactly what I wanted. We saw over 600 dancers for this show for eight onstage dancers and three swings,” he shares. “There was no singing ensemble and dancing ensemble — I needed a young dancer who could be a star, cover a principal and dance their face off. This is some of the hardest dancing I’ve ever seen in a show. This was my big opportunity to put a dance show on Broadway.”
The show kicks off with a big opening number to get the audience right into that dance show ambiance. It sets off a whirlwind of dance numbers through to the finale, which was being reworked while Head Over Heels was still in previews.
“I think our opening number is pretty fantastic,” Spencer admits. “It sets the tone for the show, shoots you out of a cannon and lets you know what our role is. ‘We Got The Beat’ opens up Act I and ‘Head Over Heels’ is the opening for Act II — everyone goes wild for that.“
Head Over Heels is scheduled to open on Broadway on July 26, just a week and a half before the first live show for Season 15 of SYTYCD. With such a busy summer planned, Spencer says he has to come back at least once this season.
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“I have talked to them and we have found some possible dates that work. It’s very limited, but this will be my 10th season on the show. I walked out of last year thinking that was it because we’ve been told the show is ending the last three years,” he says. “I have said goodbye to CBS Studios several times now. Everything I have become as a choreographer, everything I know in this business, I have learned in this room. That studio has shaped so much of who I am.”
Spencer has a jam-packed year ahead, which includes a stint on the West Coast at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. He will be directing and choreographing Singing in the Rain beginning in April 2019.
“I am hoping to have a lot of the SYTYCD kids join me for Singing in the Rain. It’s going to be a huge dance show. It will also be one of the first productions I am directing on my own. I know a lot of the SYTYCD kids don’t think about theatre, but I am hoping when it’s time that I can convince them to be in a musical. I want to blow those dance scenes out of the water.”
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