‘The Doors Didn’t Open Easily’ on Her Path to ‘Cinderella’

Following Broadway performances (Miss Saigon, Guys and Dolls, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) as an ensemble member, Hunter became a dance captain, the one who teaches the choreography for every character in the show. In 2002, Rob Ashford, the director of “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” requested her to be his choreographic colleague while she was on stage.

“I knew JoAnn would be crucial,” Ashford remarked over the phone. “She was usually the brightest person in the room as well as the best dancer.” In the wake of a recent divorce, Hunter felt unsure. After hearing “aarghhhh,” she responded, “Aaarghhhh.” But she couldn’t let the opportunity pass her by without trying.

According to Ashford, she is a “genuine problem solver” and “a fantastic collaborator”. For a musical, the choreographer’s job is getting inside the director’s head and interpreting that vision into their own work. She was always concerned with the show’s objectives.”

“Spring Awakening” director Michael Mayer said in an interview that one of Hunter’s greatest gifts is to “understand why the steps are there, what the characters are trying to accomplish through movement, and how movement is in conversation with other elements of the show, even though at that point she hasn’t made up moves.” Michael Mayer hired Hunter in 2006 to oversee Bill T. Jones choreography.

It was a 2008 U.S. tour of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” that marked Hunter’s first foray into freelance choreography for a musical. In Hunter’s memory, he thought, “I’m never going to find out unless I try this.” At least no one will have seen it if I’m horrible.

After being asked if she thought this type of insecurity was more prevalent among women, Hunter paused before responding. She had a point when she said that. “Men tend to try things without worrying if they have the experience,” says the author. The lack of female choreographers on Broadway didn’t assist her self-confidence, she said.

Although there are currently few female Broadway choreographers, this is beginning to change: Camille A. Brown, Michelle Dorrance, Ellenore Scott, and Ayodele Casel are all slated to choreograph upcoming Broadway productions. Hunter believed that musical theatre today had a greater representation of women.

The fact that she only ever worked with two female directors, Susan Stroman and Tina Landau, as a dancer is “incredible,” she remarked. “In the time, these issues, as well as ethnic diversity, are at the forefront of our minds.” I’m hoping it’s not just a passing trend.