Broadway In Chicago, known as one of the largest commercial touring homes in the country, brings to the stage another classic play: “Hello, Dolly!”
Let’s Play is excited to introduce to Chicago Defender the talented Brandon L. Whitmore. Brandon received training at Ann Broadie’s Carolina Ballet and is a graduate of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He has also studied at Centre National de la Danse in Paris, France and at the Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp in Antwerp, Belgium.
Brandon has gained experience at notable institutions such as The American Ballet Theater, The Rock School for Dance Education, Joffrey Ballet School, and Ballet Austin and trained at the Alvin Ailey School. This experience ultimately helped him received the Image Award from The Dance Theater of Harlem.
Brandon is a proud member of the Actors’ Equity Association and is currently in the First National Tour of “Hello, Dolly!” Let’s Play would like to thank Broadway in Chicago for providing us access to Brandon.
LP: Brandon, thank you for speaking with us for this Chicago Defender interview.
Brandon: Rick and Brenda, thank you. I’m happy to speak to you, Let’s Play and The Chicago Defender.
LP: You have an extensive resume and have trained throughout the world. What got you interested in the performing arts as a career?
Brandon: When I was 2 years old, I use to watch my sister Tanisha perform on stage in Orangeburg, SC, and according to my mother Loretta Whitmore I wouldn’t stop crying because I wanted to do what she did. So she immediately put me in my first dance class at Tamalyn’s Dance Center, and though it sounds so cliche, that was the moment I knew I was destined for this. My mom also enrolled me in piano lessons, Taekwondo, and even gymnastics, but I hated participating in those activities because I only wanted to dance—ballet, to be more specific.
At the age of six, I started training at Ann Brodies’ Carolina Ballet in Columbia, SC, during the summers. It was an hour commute from my home, but my mother knew I was serious and that it was time for me to take my dancing to the next level. I began to expand my knowledge in various dance forms and started dancing competitively during my teenage years.
My schedule soon became school in the mornings, and dance in the afternoons/ nights; with thanks to my mom, I was still able to train close to my home. It was very hard for her and even more so financially, but she believed in my dreams enough to sacrifice everything. During my high school years, I was accepted into the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, which only takes a limited amount of students in various areas of Dance, Drama, Visual Arts, Creative Writing, and Music.
The dance department was under the direction of Stanislav Issaev and was primarily ballet focused with modern dance on the weekends with Lloyd Whitmore. This is where I received the bulk of my training, and it was at that moment I realized that I had to perform. I knew that I loved ballet, but I also knew it wasn’t going to be my career.
Through a lot of self-discovery and perseverance during my college career, at The University of the Arts, by the end of my senior year, I finally knew my calling was musical theater.
LP: You have sat under the tutelage of Stanislav Issaev and was mentored by Donna Faye Burchfield, what advice would you give the future generation of performing artists to help with their career?
Brandon: Stay open to opportunities. Life will take you in crazy directions, and it’s up to us to listen to your instincts and act on them. Take risks, and demolish fear. Don’t let anyone tell you performing or art, in general, is not a stable career. Create your stability, and create your destiny. Listen to yourself and ignore ignorance. To the people of color, being Black in the performing arts is hard, and is a constant challenge, but it’s up to us to change that, accept who we are and master our craft. Take control, and work 10 times as hard and NEVER take no as an answer. Train, read, write, draw, study, and go on a journey of self-discovery. In doing this, we will change the world through art and see we are capable of greatness.
LP: Tell us about the ensemble role you play in Hello Dolly and how you prepared for this role?
Brandon: In Hello, Dolly! I wear many hats along with my fellow ensemble members. In the first half of the show, I play a townsman, and by the end of it, I become a wait where I dance the famous “Waiters’ Gallop.” The Waiters’ Gallop is one of the most celebrated dance numbers in musical theater history. Its athletic nature, technical precision and show-stopping choreography by Tony Award Winner Warren Carlyle takes a lot of mental and physical preparation.
Taking dance class is super important in one’s career. Even as a professional dancer, the training never stops. We are continually learning new things about our bodies and are always trying to achieve “perfection;” even though it does not exist. On top of the physicality of the show, we also have to make sure we are staying vocally healthy as well. The Jerry Herman score requires a certain level of vocal technique, so vocal coaching, steaming the voice, resting are essential. As a performer, our bodies are our instruments, and we have to take care of it.
LP: How does it feel to be a part of this legendary play that is traveling across the United States?
Brandon: Being part of this production is truly a dream come true. Every year I write down a checklist of goals in my phone, and on my 2018 checklist, it read: Book Hello, Dolly and Book a Broadway national tour. I auditioned for Hello, Dolly 8 times (3 times for Broadway, and was seen by the creative team 5 times for the tour), and when I finally got it, I was in a state of shock. I couldn’t believe after all the rejections and all the Nos, I was finally given a chance. This musical has so much history I was thrilled to be a part of it.
Hello, Dolly was originally staged in 1964 with Carol Channing, and of course the 1967 production with Pearl Bailey and an all-Black cast to support it. This inspired me to be part of this iconic musical, and now I get to be part this show’s history. With that, I am eternally grateful.
Winner of four Tony Awards including Best Musical Revival, Hello, Dolly will be starting at Oriental Theatre from October 23rd to November 17th.