Ahrens and Flaherty Write "New Music" For a Rebooted Little Dancer, Now Called Marie

Susan Stroman directs the 5th Avenue Theatre production of ”Marie, Dancing Still”, with eyes on Broadway.

In a rehearsal hall on the Upper West Side, prolific songwriters Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty and equally legendary director-choreographer Susan Stroman are hard at work rebooting a musical that many in the industry thought had quietly disappeared.

Little Dancer, which explored the relationship between artist Edgar Degas and young ballerina Marie van Goethem, who is believed to have inspired his legendary sculpture of the same name, premiered at the Kennedy Center in the fall of 2014. Reviews of this sweeping musical were decidedly mixed, but its creators and company believed in it. It closed just after Thanksgiving that year, but the work continued.

Half a decade later, with much of that company, led by New York City Ballet principal dancer Tiler Peck, intact, the creators of Little Dancer have significantly revised their show, thinning out its scope but not its ambition, and changing the title to Marie, Dancing Still along the way. The premiere run for this version of the show is currently taking place at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre, with its eyes toward Broadway.

Sometimes, Stroman mused, it's meant to be when a show takes its time. Here, they discuss the changes — and tell us what we can expect.

Lynn Ahrens, Susan Stroman, and Stephen Flaherty, creators of Marie, Dancing Still.
Lynn Ahrens, Susan Stroman, and Stephen Flaherty, creators of Marie, Dancing Still.
(© David Gordon)

What was the takeaway from the Kennedy Center run that propelled you into the further development of this piece?

Lynn Ahrens: What we learned down at the Kennedy Center was that it's a beautiful pudding with too many raisins. We had too much material for some of the secondary characters and not enough material for the two characters we're interested the most in, which are Degas and Marie.

Stephen Flaherty: We wanted to focus on that central relationship. Degas has two new songs, and Marie has a new duet with [love interest] Christian.

Lynn: We also pruned away some of the secondary storylines and characters. It's leaner and meaner and more focused.

Susan Stroman: What was wonderful was being able to go back to all our research about Degas's paintings and what we could find historically about Marie van Goethem. Every moment of the show is richer now. It was a beautiful production at the Kennedy Center and it sold out, but the idea that we got a chance to go back to crafting it is fabulous. You never get to do that.

How does having worked with Tiler Peck, who plays Marie, for so long aid in the show's continued revising?

Lynn: Over these few years, we've learned what she's brilliant at and what can be tailored for her specific skills. Like any actor, you know where their money note is; you know where their amazing dance step is, so we've really tailored everything in the show to Tiler's talents. She's one of a kind.

Susan: Tiler is such a star. She has the acting chops, she has the star presence, and she's very creative.

Stephen: She's also given us a peek into the world of ballet. We got to hang out with her backstage at New York City Ballet, which really illuminated what we were writing.

Lynn: She really is like the Marie of the story. She'd come to us, then she'd run to Lincoln Center, then she'd run back to us, and then…

Stephen: She'd go do Aurora in Sleeping Beauty for thousands of people.

Tiler Peck as Marie in the 2014 Kennedy Center production of Little Dancer.
Tiler Peck as Marie in the 2014 Kennedy Center production of Little Dancer.
(© Paul Kolnik)

Why did you change the title from Little Dancer to Marie, Dancing Still?

Lynn: We loved Little Dancer, but we discovered that people couldn't quite remember it. We got a lot of Little Princess and a lot of Tiny Dancer.

Stephen: Which is a great song but…

Lynn: But Elton John did not write this show. So we felt that it was important to change the title. The girl in the sculpture is an anonymous historical figure, and we thought it would be wonderful to make her a real title character. We fell in love with the idea of ''Dancing Still" because it implies the stillness of a sculpture, but also the eternal nature of her ballet career and how even today she inspires young dancers.

Stephen: It's a more personalized title. You don't see her at a distance. You see her name. That's what we're trying to do with the show, too: bring her more to the foreground.

Is Broadway the ultimate goal?

Susan: Of course. We want it to come in. Sometimes it's meant to be when a show takes a little time, and I think it's a good thing. It's such a sumptuous production. It has musical theater, classical ballet, and art. There are moments in the show where we recreate a Degas masterpiece for a moment and then move on. If you're an aficionado, you recognize it. The real cross-fertilization of these art forms makes it very unique. I feel an audience would love that.