Baking contests will dominate Lorin Latarro’s time this winter. And she won’t go near an oven. At least not one she’ll be preheating and loading with cakes and pies. Latarro’s confections will come from another source.
Latarro makes dances. She has choreographed most of the shows at New Hope’s Bucks County Playhouse since its 2012 restoration and developed a reputation for the wit, spunk, sharpness, and originality of her dances.
Now it’s time for breakthroughs and challenges. For the next few months Latarro will be immersed in personal “firsts,” one of which makes Broadway history. A new musical, “A Taste of Things to Come,” marks her debut as a director when it opens at BCP on Saturday, January 30. Simultaneously, she is creating dances for another musical, “Waitress,” which begins at Broadway’s Brooks Atkinson Theater in late March.
The shows have a lot of similarities. Both are about women who use their cooking talents to enter contests that change their lives. “A Taste of Things to Come” is set in the 1960s and has overtones of the transitions America experienced during that decade. “Waitress,” based on a 2007 movie, is contemporary and depicts a woman who hopes victory in a baking contest will be the antidote to the drudgery, marital dissatisfaction, and feelings of uselessness she faces.
Quite significantly, both shows have creative teams composed entirely of women. The composers of “Taste” are Debra Barsha and Hollye Levin with Latarro as director-choreographer, her initial time in that dual role. The cast of four for “Taste” is also all women.
The composer of “Waitress” is Sara Bareilles of “Love Song” fame. Its book writer is Jessie Nelson, and its director is Diane Paulus, who has become a Broadway powerhouse since her production of “Hair” in 2009. Latarro coming aboard as choreographer gives “Waitress” the historical distinction of being the first Broadway show to have women in all major creative roles.
History aside, Lorin Latarro, at age 38, is in the midst of one of the most important periods of her professional life. Though she created Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart’s dance steps in “Waiting for Godot” and is associate choreographer for Broadway’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time,” “Waitress” is her maiden voyage as lone choreographer of a large Broadway musical, one that stars Tony winner Jessie Mueller and is an original production, meaning she is the first to create its dances. “A Taste of Things to Come,” also an original production, earns her a coveted director’s credit. The two assignments represent the culmination of a life spent around dance and performance.
“You prepare for a time like this,” Latarro says in one of several telephone conversations and E-mail exchanges that began when taking on “A Taste of Things to Come” and “Waitress” was only a possibility. “The pressure and the responsibility are great, but a point like this is what you hope will happen in your career. I deal with the emotional parts of this time by getting enough sleep and working hard on both shows. Days are nonstop, and I’m hoarse at the end of them.”
She says an audition process for her involvement with “Waitress” had an added benefit. “I had to work out a concept to fit the show. Once you have the concept, you have the steps, so I feel as if I had a head start. The choreography runs the gamut from energetic dance numbers to creating physical fantasy sequences that show what’s going on in the heroine’s head. The challenge for ‘A Taste of Things to Come’ is being on my own. Working with a director, I have someone to bounce concepts off, someone to take a look and give an opinion. Now all of the decisions are mine, and I have no choice but to make them.”
Time, however, she says has become an enemy. “Everything takes more time when you’re doing two jobs. First you have to figure out the super objectives and large ideas a director determines. Then you have to go back and choreograph your ideas. I don’t anticipate a conflict between me as director and me as choreographer. The challenge will be to edit myself. This is my first time directing any show, so I feel the energy and the pressure.”
Latarro says the common thread between the shows helps. She notes ‘A Taste of Things to Come’ is funny, smart, and from a time when things people accepted as true seem absurd now. “So much misinformation came from advertisements, magazine articles, even Dr. Spock. Debra Barsha and Hollye Levin wrote killer rock music and a humorous, poignant story about four women and their journeys over 20 years.”
“Taste,” she says, depicts how every woman helped to shape the movement towards equality. “As exciting as anything is I love creating new work,” Latarro continues. “There is no blueprint other than the writers’ words and ideas. I see so many possibilities, and the best part is there’s nothing to re-imagine, only to imagine.”
Lorin Latarro is an anomaly of sorts in her family. Her father, John Campolattaro, is a retired dentist. Her brothers, Brian and Steven, are both physicians. Her sister, Kristen, is a corporate executive at Lincoln Center. Her mother, Eileen, was a science teacher. She alone pursued a career as a performer and creator in the arts.
“I like to think of medicine and science as related to the arts,” says Latarro, who grew up in Fairfield, New Jersey.
“Medicine is not an exact science,” Latarro continues. “Lots of extrapolation goes on. The process of thinking, rethinking, and changing one’s mind is pretty much akin to the process a choreographer goes through making a dance. You look at what’s in front of you, and you make decisions about how best to deal with it. People may be surprised that I do something so different from the rest of my family, but neither my parents nor my siblings are. I was always attracted to dance and always liked to make up steps and create my own pieces. That’s what I did. I danced. I responded to music. My family devoted itself to science. I devoted myself to music.”
Starting with “Swing” in 1999, Latarro danced in 14 shows on Broadway. “Like with most girls, my first formal experience with dance was in a ballet class. Yes, I began making my own dances, and I added modern, jazz, tap, and every form of dance to my schedule. My parents noticed that dance and its creation were more than pastimes to me. They decided I should go to Juilliard, where I studied dance composition and Broadway choreography in addition to other subjects.”
Latarro says she her parents’ choice was fortunate. “Juilliard put creativity into perspective, especially when it became clear I had a talent for creating as well as performing. What I learned changed my life because they taught us all how to live as artists and that we could live as artists. They also taught us to have a concept and make something out of nothing. They emphasized having courage and leaving the areas in which you’re most comfortable to go further and challenge yourself.
“While I prefer making dances, I also enjoyed performing on Broadway. While I danced, I continued to invent dances. Getting to see how various choreographers worked was instructive. I changed my professional name from Campolattaro to Latarro to make it easier.”
After being in so many shows, Tony Award-winning director Michael Mayer asked Latarro to be an assistant choreographer (to Steven Hoggett) for his 2010 production of “American Idiot.” Since then she has worked primarily as a choreographer.
Mayer played another significant role in Latarro’s life. Last June Mayer became a United Life minister so he could officiate at the wedding of Latarro to Brian Kopell, who, as the pattern goes, is a doctor, a neurosurgeon at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital. The couple met in a way as unusual as Mayer marrying them. Latarro, inspired by a sermon about actively seeking what you want in life, went to a dating website and for a lark, entered “brain surgeon” as her key words. Dr. Kopell’s profile emerged, and now Lorin and he live in New York City.
A Taste of Things to Come, Bucks County Playhouse, 70 South Main Street, New Hope, Pennsylvania. Saturday, January 30, through Sunday, February 21, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays at 2 p.m. $30 to $69. 215-862-2121 or www.bcptheater.org.