From a peaceful small town located in the heart of Michigan’s Grape Country to the exhilarating streets of New York City, Jerry Mitchell always knew he wanted more. Mitchell’s love for theater began at age 10 where he grew up singing and dancing at his local community theater, Paw Paw Village Playhouse. His talent and determination was clear to see, but his love for dance quickly flourished. Between the ages of 14 to 15, Mitchell was already choreographing and assisting for shows at his community theater and high school. Fast forward to 17 years old, Mitchell was accepted to the Conservatory Program at Webster University in St. Louis. This small town boy was finally getting his big city dream.
Well, what’s the dream? “I want to dance on Broadway,” says Mitchell. So, he took his first ballet class at the age of 18 at Webster College and continued his focused ballet training for the next two years, which would soon pay off. On a spontaneous Spring Break trip to New York City, Mitchell had no idea his whole life was about to change. At only 20 years old, Mitchell booked his first Broadway show as a dancer for Brigadoon. Then he booked another one, and another one after that. Some of his early Broadway dance credits include The Will Rogers Follies and On Your Toes. Most professional dancers are taught ballet their entire life and Mitchell was able to do it in two years, bravo! This goes to show that it is never too late to learn something new.
His dream did not end there. At 23 years old, Mitchell decided he wanted to be a choreographer. “I wanted to dance on Broadway but I was also the dancer who was always looking at the whole picture,” says Mitchell. “I would hangout next to the choreographer, listen to the choreographer, and even volunteer to help when needed.” So, he worked as an assistant for 17 years until he finally got his first Broadway show as the sole choreographer for the 1999 revival of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, which then followed with The Full Monty. He was 40 years old.
In 2003, Mitchell was named one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch,” having already been Tony Nominated for Best Choreographer for The Full Monty and Hairspray. Then in 2007, Mitchell directed and choreographed the smash hit musical Legally Blonde! Mitchell laughs and reflects on Annaleigh Ashford’s audition, who is best known for her role as Margot in Legally Blonde. After a long day of auditions, Ashford walked into the room wearing high heels with pink plastic bows on them, which made Mitchell laugh. Then she continued to do a scene with Bruiser Woods, the dog, and she had to pretend the dog was actually there. “She made me believe that she was talking to the dog and made me laugh so hard,” says Mitchell. “I hired her that day, she was that special.”
The Full Monty, Hairspray, Never Gonna Dance, La Cage aux Folles, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Legally Blonde, and Kinky Boots are just some of the stage works that Mitchell has received Tony Nominations for. In 2005, he won a Tony Award for Best Choreography for La Cage aux Folles and in 2013 he took home another Tony Award for Best Choreography for Kinky Boots. “My favorite thing is just creating the show with the actors,” says Mitchell. “It’s the magic of putting it all together.”
Jerry Mitchell at the 67th Annual Tony Awards
Not only is Mitchell a Tony Award Winning Director and Choreographer, he is also a philanthropist. Mitchell is the creator of the annual Broadway Bares Benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. When the AIDS epidemic had just begun in 1980, Mitchell had just arrived in New York. By 1990, he had lost six of his best college friends to AIDS. “When you’re under 30 years old,” says Mitchell, “that really shouldn’t be your life.” So he decided to do something about it.
Mitchell was a Broadway dancer at the time, so he put together a show with six other dancers to raise money at a famous gay bar named Splash in New York City. “It was my own version of Magic Mike back in the day and we raised $8,000 and gave it all to charity,” says Mitchell. Then the following year he raised $17,000, then the year after that he raised $35,000, and it continued to flourish! The most recent benefit was before the pandemic and it was the most remarkable one to date, having raised 2 million dollars in one night. Since its inception 29 years ago, this little strip show – as Mitchell likes to say – has raised over 24 million dollars for Broadway Cares. “I never envisioned it getting this big,” Mitchell laughs. “I never thought it would be around for 30 years.” The 30th anniversary benefit show will take place June 26th, 2022 at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City (ticket information listed below.) Mitchell hopes to raise over 24 million dollars for Broadway Cares.
What’s next for Tony Award Winner and Director Jerry Mitchell? Well, you can see his latest work near you with the National Broadway Tour of Pretty Woman The Musical, the perfect Cinderella story. Directed and choreographed by Mitchell, he says, “She starts in the ashes and ends up with a Prince, but instead she rescues him.” Pretty Woman The Musical will be showing at the Straz Center in Tampa, FL through May 17-22, 2022. “Right now people are wanting to go to the theater to have a good time and forget about everything else in the world and Pretty Woman is that classic love story,” says Mitchell. “That’s why I think it’s been so successful on the road because people are really having a wonderful time.”