Debbie Allen has A New Musical Twist
Twist, An American Musical offers great singing and dancing
Debbie Allen’s dedication to dance is indisputable. From her early days as a young performer in the acclaimed TV series Fame, who went on to become a respected choreographer and dancer. Her versatility has had her serving the entertainment industry with her talents, and bringing dance to TV, films and theaters throughout the world.
Recently she has been a guest judge on Fox TV’s So You Think You Can Dance, encouraging the young dancers. Allen even offered to train a talented young man at her dance academy when she saw the passion he had for the art form.
Now Allen is taking bows as the director-choreographer for Twist, An American Musical. It is an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic novel with a contemporary score, set in New Orleans in the Roaring 20s. Twist tells the story of a young orphan boy born of a courageous white mother and an incredibly talented black father, who navigates the streets and racial indifference in his quest to find his family.
The score for Twist features the musical pulse of New Orleans and creates a tapestry of soaring ballads, hot jazz, blues, gospel, and tap-infused dance numbers that will take audiences along this magical journey.
Allen says the story is very relevant. “Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist was a very personal story that protested the laws against the poor and the abuse of children in Victorian England. Laws that landed him, as a child, and his family in a workhouse. This story translates beautifully to New Orleans, on the eve of the Great Depression, when laws in America were upholding racism and the inhumane treatment of children. Old traditions and greed were tearing at the very principles of freedom and humanity.”
Allen reveals that Twist “has been an amazing journey for me personally. To explore Dickens and guide the creative team in this transliteration was to relive many challenges I experienced as a young child growing up in the south.”
She says she spent every summer in West Baton Rouge, Louisiana on her family’s farm shelling peas, churning butter and fantasizing about the Mississippi River. “A trip to New Orleans was like going to Paris,” she recalls.
It was very challenging to grow up in the segregated South, she says. And when she was not allowed to go to ballet class, her mother packed up the family and moved to Mexico City where no one cared about color.
That is why she reports that she can identify with “Twist,” the story about a young boy orphaned in a storm of racial hatred.
“He is searching for his family and his identity. It is the story about love and how the goodness of a child changes the lives of many. How people can, through the lens of this child find the goodness in themselves.”
“And there’s a lot of great singing and dancing along the way,” says Allen, who praises the cast that includes Tamyra Gray (American Idol).
Chatting with Allen on opening night at the Pasadena Playhouse (playing June 26 to July 24), she said, “As you watch the performance, feel free to tap your toes to the music of Tena Clark and Gary Prim. And it’s okay if the book written by Bill Brown and Tina Tippit moves you to tears or to laugh out loud.”