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“Wicked” dance captain Shanna VanDerwerker puts the students of a Broadway Sacramento master dance class through their paces.

photographs by Barry Wisdom /

More than 20 area dance students were treated to an Oz-some tutorial Friday afternoon when "Wicked" dance captain Shanna VanDerwerker provided on- and off-stage insights as part of California Musical Theatre‘s continuing series of Broadway Sacramento master dance classes.

VanDerwerker, who’s performing in the first national tour of the Stephen SchwartzWinnie Holzman megamusical that’s playing through June 17 at the Community Center Theater, shared a mix of professional guidance and backstage anecdotes during the 90-minute class held at Sacramento’s Sierra 2 Center for the Arts and Community.

Using Wayne Cilento‘s off-center, almost Seussicalian musical staging for the show’s ensemble numbers, as well as his acrobatic (yet equally skewed) choreography designed for the Wicked Witch of the West’s squadron of Flying Monkeys, VanDerwerker demonstrated what it was like to perform over the rainbow.

The session began with the de rigueur warm-up exercises and ended with a lively Q-and-A session which saw the young men and women ask everything of VanDerwerker, from her favorite "Wicked" numbers ("One Short Day" as a performer; "Defying Gravity" as a fan), to the number of ensemble parts she’s played in the show (all nine female roles, plus one short, male monkey).

VanDerwerker, who married fellow cast member Justin Brill (Boq) in October 2010, joined the show’s first national tour more than three years ago following a long run in the Broadway cast.

A graduate of Pittsburgh’s Point Park University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in dance, VanDerwerker’s credits include stints with: Theater Under the Stars in Houston, Texas; The Walden Company in New York; the Fireside Dinner Theatre in Fort Atkinson, Wis.; and the New York-based company.

Stressing that roles aren’t necessarily assigned to the best technical dancers, but to those who interpret their role’s choreography through nuanced gestures and facial expressions, VanDerwerker said "storytelling is the most important thing a dancer should keep in mind."

If a dancer conveys a true sense of purpose, certain weaknesses in technique may be overlooked, she said.

VanDerwerker also stressed the importance of learning dance history, urging her students to "watch AMC, watch Turner Classic Movies, watch Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse."

She asked if anyone was aware that the newspaper dance sequence in Disney’s current Broadway hit "Newsies" ("Seize the Day") was actually inspired by a 62-year-old Gene Kelly number (choreographed by Michael Kidd) from MGM’s "Summer Stock" (1950).

VanDerwerker also advised one college-bound student that there was no reason to limit her applications to East Coast schools, that professional companies search coast-to-coast for new members. "I went to school in Pittsburgh, and I’m doing OK," she smiled.

California Musical Theatre-sponsored master dance classes include a summer series of weekly, 90-minute workshops taught by choreographers and performers from the upcoming Music Circus productions of "Grease," "Disney’s The Little Mermaid," "The Music Man," "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Crazy for You." For more information about these classes as well as future Broadway Sacramento offerings, call the California Musical Theatre education department at (916) 446-5880 ext. 147.