Tyce Diorio on "Every Little Step"

by Tony Phillips

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday April 15, 2009

When "A Chorus Line" bowed on Broadway in 1975 and the assembled unknowns turned "away from the mirror" decked in hats and tails to sing, "One singular sensation, every little step he takes. One thrilling combination, every move that he makes," they could just have well been singing about Tyce Diorio.

But you won't find the star of James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo's new documentary about casting the 2006 Broadway revival of "A Chorus Line," entitled Every Little Step, anywhere in that film's press kit. Ditto imdb. And if you put in an interview request with that film's publicist, you may get the same runaround. "You don't want to talk to him," I was told. And the more I heard it, the more I knew I had to chat up Tyce Diorio.

And I didn't have to look too far. Although at times over his varied career it seems he's said no more than he's said yes - to Twyla Tharp and Bette Midler for starters - the handsome "dancer/singer/actor" doesn't play hard to get. In fact, he readily admits, "I love the camera" and was happy to chat with Edge about his experience making "Every Little Step," even though he has yet to see the film.

And as that film gets ready to kick the New Directors/New Films festival into high gear with it's US premiere this weekend, Tyce took the time to fill us in on choreographing and appearing on the hit TV show "Dancing with the Stars," touring with Janet Jackson and dancing behind Gina Gershon as one of her "Goddess dancers" in the queer cult film "Showgirls."

His last callback

Tony Phillips: So Tyce, this will be a kind of interesting interview since you haven’t seen the movie yet.

Tyce Diorio: I haven’t.

Tony Phillips: What was your experience like making it?

Tyce Diorio: Well, as you know, they were filming the audition process and that process was a very unique and interesting one for me. I will say one thing, just looking back, I have absolutely no regrets at all. I don’t know what I sound like in the movie or how they edited me to be. I’m sure it’s interesting and colorful (laughs) knowing myself. I wonder if it makes me sound arrogant?

Tony Phillips: I don’t think it does at all. There are two scenes that really stood out for me. The first is your last callback and the second is this scene where you’re telling the camera how it doesn’t really matter if you get a callback or not, it’s more about the work that you do in that room, and as you’re saying that the casting agent tells you to come back in for another audition and you practically do a back flip.

Tyce Diorio: Well, it’s great, it’s always great when you get a callback and you’re received well. As a dancer/singer/actor, you can invest in yourself, but you cannot invest in an outcome. You’re not in control of that. That’s my whole angle on auditioning.

Tony Phillips: It’s always hard for me when people say, it’s not personal. Of course it is. Everything is. Do you also find it hard to disengage?

Tyce Diorio: I think it used to be, but I have a question for you, what was so interesting about my last callback?

Tony Phillips: Tyce! Enough about me, what do you think of me? Okay, okay, I just thought what you did in that last audition really informs what both "A Chorus Line" and even this documentary about casting the revival is all about. In theory, it’s this line where everyone is supposed to be the same and uniform, but the show kind of explodes that notion and shows how really unique everyone on that line is. So anyway, there were a lot of dancers out on the stage - it kind of looked like that opening cattle call in "All That Jazz" -- and I guess you were all supposed to be doing the same steps. I still don’t know what you did. It was like jazz. You were keeping time to the music, but you had totally departed from the score. It’s really this one turn that you do.

Tyce Diorio: Well, I did a lot of turns, but I held the arabesque. I didn’t change the choreography, I held it. I let some counts go by and then I picked it right back up. I did misbehave a little in a sense, but no one knows the reasons why I did that.

Tony Phillips: I have a hunch, but can you tell me?

Tyce Diorio: Well, why do you think?

Tony Phillips: Well, it’s what I was saying before, the show really isn’t about the line; it’s about the individual points that make up that line and how unique they are.

Tyce Diorio: Yeah, right, but here’s the deal, do they show their reactions?

Tony Phillips: Yes!

Tyce Diorio: They weren’t happy about it.

Tony Phillips: They weren’t having it.

Tyce Diorio: What did they say?

Tony Phillips: It’s not so much about what they said, it’s more their reaction. They cut to the table and it’s just faces. And they’re wrecked.

Tyce Diorio: No comments?

Tony Phillips: Well that kind of is a comment, don’t you think? I feel like drinking coffee at that table is a comment. Everything they do is a comment, but then, you know, I take things too personally.

Tyce Diorio: Right. As long as it looks good, I don’t care what their reaction is.

Tony Phillips: Fuck them. It looks beautiful. I would have hired you. There’s another moment where one of the casting folks calls your agent and refers to your last callback as a "meltdown."

Tyce Diorio: A meltdown? What was the meltdown? I wasn’t upset. They didn’t accept what I did well because they looked at it as arrogance. My agent told me it was arrogance. They felt like I was trying to stand out. They said I was all over the place. The reason I decided to do what I did was because here’s the final callback. We all want to get the job, right? And, I mean, wouldn’t it have been amazing for them to say, "Hey, Tyce, pull it back a little. Clean it up." Boom, done, finished and gone. They didn’t do that. They scolded me for it. They told my agent that he thinks this is The Tyce Diorio Show and I’m like, "People, that’s what "Chorus Line" is about." It’s about desperation. And you know what, we walked in that day and Bob Avian specifically said, "We want to see who you are." Okay, great. Great. Then they told us, each person, what roles we were up for. They told me I was being considered as an understudy. Now, clearly, clearly (laughs) watching me sing and dance, I am no understudy. I’m not mad at that because that’s what their needs are, but what was I going to do? I wanted to prove to them, look at me. Look at what I can do.

Tony Phillips: Which is also the character for which you’re auditioning. I mean, Mike is Mr. "I Can Do That," right?

Tyce Diorio: Right. Sometimes people just want to be stuffy. If they would have just said, "Hey, do the choreography exactly the way it’s done," I would have been like no problem, done. But they did not do that with me. They were just different with me. And I’m not running after anyone who’s not running after me. I trust. I have worked my whole life. "Chorus Line" was just a great, fun audition. If I had gotten a part, terrific. If not, my career has gone on and it’s so colorful. Broadway dancers, they do Broadway, but outside of that, I have enjoyed a very versatile, fruitful career. I’m on a hit television show as a choreographer, I’ve danced for Janet Jackson. I do so many different things and it’s like, okay, if they didn’t want me, that’s cool. My life continues and then some. I’m not desperate.

Becoming a household name

Tony Phillips: So that TV show is "So You Think You Can Dance?"

Tyce Diorio: Yeah!

Tony Phillips: What’s that been like?

Tyce Diorio: It’s been absolutely brilliant. I’ve been on the map as a dancer my whole life, with Janet and then working with Rob Marshall and then boom, "So You Think You Can Dance" comes on and it’s one of the hottest shows on television. It’s enormous and I’ve become a household name.

Tony Phillips: So you’re also a judge on that show?

Tyce Diorio: Yeah, and I mean it’s hard. I’m sure I understand how they might have felt seeing me there. I’m not this person who gets up there and is going to be scolded for my talents. I think they wanted me to apologize for my talent and I’m not going to do that. I’m sure there’s another guy in line who’s more excited and more willing to play by the rules. I’m totally a team player, but when you tell me I’m going to be an understudy after six callbacks, I’m going to try and change your mind. It’s a gamble and it’s a risk and it’s one that I took and it didn’t work and that’s good. I’m even better because of it. I don’t look at it as a bad thing. Everything in my career is necessary. And that experience was totally necessary the way it played out. I don’t regret anything.

Tony Phillips: Okay, so I guess we’re dipping back into "Chorus Line," so I just wanted to say, there’s this other girl in the movie. She’s up for Shelia. I can’t remember her name, but she looks like Candis Cayne.

Tyce Diorio: I know who you mean.

Tony Phillips: Well, anyway, they did kind of course correct her. They didn’t like what she did and Bob took her aside and was like, look, we really liked what you did last summer, can you just do that again? And she was like, that was eight months ago!

Tyce Diorio: Yeah, and well, you know, Jeff Schecter, who got the part as Mike, he’s so great. He’s so awesome and if that’s what they were looking for, cookie cutter, he’s much more the cookie cutter, perfect Mike. But if you look at the original production of "A Chorus Line" and you look at Wayne Cilento and the people that Michael Bennett chose, I would have to boldly say that if Michael Bennett was alive I would have been in that line. I mean, you look at Donna McKechnie on the Tony Awards and all the people that were on that line, they were beasts. They were animals. Animals! And if you look at that year’s Tony Awards, it was like a mass confusion of wild fire. This revival was really sweet and nice. It told the story and they did a great job in casting, but you know what? There could have been some different choices, and I’m not talking about myself. I mean other roles. I thought everyone was great. I enjoyed everybody, especially Yuka, she was a real standout for me. Chryssie Whitehead is brilliant. Perfect. Jessica Goldyn: awesome. Natalie Cortez: she’s great. In fact, I coached Mara Davi for the part. They told her if she didn’t learn how to dance for the callback she wouldn’t get it.

Tony Phillips: You’re being really diplomatic, but I think what you’re saying is what I feel too: Charlotte D’Amboise was really weak.

Tyce Diorio: Charlotte is amazing and an icon and fantastic and brilliant...

Tony Phillips: Yeah, yeah, yeah, but her big dance number was flat.

Tyce Diorio: Well, maybe she was not the best choice for that part.

Tony Phillips: So getting back to this "animals" business, I think Bennett cultivated that a little bit. Like I can remember having lunch with Jennifer Holliday and she said Bennett used to run around telling people he showed her how to use a fork.

Tyce Diorio: Well, Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins and Michael Bennett are kind of mavericks. Bob Fosse would have lived for me. Ann Reinking told me I looked just like him when she cast me in Fosse. We work so hard as dancers. They always say we’re the last on the totem pole so for us to be confident in what we do, is that so wrong? I mean, if people look at it as cocky, so be it. We work too hard and you have one opportunity to make your life what you want it to be. You have to walk in there with complete confidence. The people who look at it as arrogance: we’re not a match. I will attract only the right choreographers and directors. I’ve only ever worked with amazing, fantastic, genius creative people and I love it.

Tony Phillips: Yeah, but all those folks you just mentioned, Ann is really the only one that’s even still alive. And I love her dearly, but I’m just wondering if you think there’s a deficit of talent like Bennett’s on Broadway today?

Tyce Diorio: We have a new generation of it. Rob Marshall: fantastic. He’s a huge fan of mine. I’m on his A-list. And he was nominated for an Oscar. So, come on. You know, I’ve had such longevity in my career and you know what? "Chorus Line" is closed now. It’s closed, and I’m still going.

Tony Phillips: Come on, Tyce, don’t get catty on me now. You were being so gracious.

Tyce Diorio: No, but I’m just saying. A great work will stay alive, won’t it? I have to tell you, my agents really made me feel bad about what I did in that audition. They did. They didn’t support me. Jay Binder was so awesome. One of his associates even came up to me afterward and said I’ve never seen anyone do what you do. You just knocked us out. So I was like, great. We spend so much time in preparation and I don’t feel that the choices that were made on their part really reflect that they understood how much time and prep work goes into it, but maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about (laughs).

Tony Phillips: So was the film crew during this whole process another layer of anxiety?

Tyce Diorio: Oh, no. I love the camera. Are you kidding me? I love every part about the business, even the crazy stuff.

Tony Phillips: Well, the camera loves you back. I don’t know that they would have had a movie without you.

Tyce Diorio: Well, that’s great. I’m so glad. I really am because I was a little nervous that they would portray me differently than I am. It’s too bad that they said I had a meltdown, but it’s okay because what really truly matters to me is that I can deliver the material as a shining star. And that I look great. I don’t care what’s said or how they portray me, at this point I had to remove myself, but as long as long as you look at me and say that guy’s fantastic, that’s all that matters. I went to the opening of "Chorus Line" and I was clapping and cheering, truly, from my heart, but it’s no secret that when everyone was doing the opening combo together, all those people were doing exactly what I did at that callback. Tyler Hanes was kicking way up high, as he should. People were turning more. No one was a cookie cutter. I was like, wow, that’s interesting, but it was great to see them have a little bit of color up there.

Working with Katie

Tony Phillips: So we were starting to talk about "So You Think You Can Dance" before and you also got your start on "Star Search," so I’m wondering what it’s like being on both sides of that coin as both contestant and judge.

Tyce Diorio: I know exactly what it’s like to be on the other side now and I know exactly a performer and a dancer needs from a choreographer. "Chorus Line" taught me what not to do and how not to act towards someone who’s good. If somebody did that at my audition, I would say good for you. You’re amazing. Thank you for coming here for me. If you look at it that way, these people woke up and prepared and spent their whole lives for you that day, for your project. They’re here for you so you have a responsibility as a choreographer to be so secure because they’re in your hands. I know exactly how to treat people now. I’ve worked with choreographers who embraced my talent. They embraced my beast. Directors always say to actors we can’t pull it out of you so give us more and we’ll know how to tone it down. Better to come in with a lot of stuff and then say hey, shave it down a little, rather than trying to drag the cow to the barn.

Tony Phillips: So what’s it like being in Los Angeles doing what you do?

Tyce Diorio: Well, I’ve worked LA and New York. I’ve had the kind of career where I can write my own ticket. I’m not pigeon-holed in one thing. I did Broadway. I’ve been a soloist on Broadway. And then I come to LA and I do television and film. I always wanted to be that kind of person. You don’t get to tell me what I’m good at and what I’m not good at. Through my hard work I prove that I am a chameleon. I can go everywhere and I can shine. So I do love LA. I love working with the camera. I love working film. I love stage. And I think it’s all the same. I do.

Tony Phillips: So you don’t have a preference?

Tyce Diorio: Well, Broadway is brilliant. I enjoyed three great Broadway shows.

Tony Phillips: I know "Chicago" and "Fosse," but what was the third?

Tyce Diorio: I did "All Shook Up." And I was hired for the starring role in "Movin’ Out" by Twyla Tharp.

Tony Phillips: Wow!

Tyce Diorio: But I turned it down.

Tony Phillips: What the hell?

Tyce Diorio: Well, I sat in the theater and watched it. Then I worked with Twyla for a few weeks and learned the part and felt it wasn’t a match for me. It wasn’t enough to just get off on the fact that I was going to be the star of the show. You have to really want to go there to work every day and enjoy that work every day. I feel like I’m a true artist and I couldn’t visualize myself walking into that theater every day. It gave me a weird feeling so I said no. And that’s when I flipped and said I want to choreograph now. And there were so many injuries in that show and, you know, I had done "Fosse" already. I was already a principle lead so I kind of enjoyed that. But the most amazing part of "Movin’ Out" was working with Twyla in the studio. I’m true to myself. I think there’s power in the word no. My heart wasn’t in it.

Tony Phillips: Okay, admit it, you just don’t like Billy Joel.

Tyce Diorio: I hated Billy Joel. Until I walked into the theater and listened to it for two hours, then I thought, wow, this is a great composer. When I got "Fosse" I jumped up in the air and fell on the floor. When I was asked to dance with Janet Jackson, I was on my cellphone. I flew in the air and fell on the beach.

Tony Phillips: So no jumping for Twyla? I think more than any other artist, Janet Jackson really presents this person who hangs with her dancers. Is that true?

Tyce Diorio: Oh, yeah, we are right in the limelight with her. I was on tour with her, in videos on television performances. We were on Oprah. It was an amazing experience. Janet knows how to treat dancers. She makes them as important as her because without us she can’t do what she does. She allows us to be individuals and she allows us to explore who we are. So for me, that’s amazing. She doesn’t want to rip the individuality out of a dancer with bland choreography.

Tony Phillips: What’s a typical day like for you in LA when you’re not working?

Tyce Diorio: Well, I work privately with Katie Holmes.

Tony Phillips: Hello? Not working! You know, like day off? But I’m easy. Say more about Katie Holmes.

Tyce Diorio: I teach her to dance. I’ve been doing so for a year and a half. So I have her four days a week. I work with closely with Tom, her husband. And we’re trying to figure out what her next movie is going to be. Hopefully, she’ll get into a movie musical. I work on "So You Think You Can Dance." I do commercials. I work on television series, films. I have sort of a full, colorful life out here in LA. And I love the weather.

Tony Phillips: As a freelancer, getting to that point where you can start saying no to things is a real turning point, but it’s also fraught with peril.

Tyce Diorio: I’ve been saying no since I’m 17. I booked a Broadway show called "Starlight Express" and I was in LA getting my feet wet trying to figure out what to do. Then Paula Abdul called me to go on a world tour with her.

Tony Phillips: Oh my God, Sophie’s Choice!

Tyce Diorio: Well, not really. I decided I’d rather be on a world tour with Paula Abdul than be on some roller-skates. I said no to so many things. I was supposed to go on tour with Bette Midler and be her one and only guy. She was going to have one male dancer on tour with her. I said no. That was interesting. I wanted to stay back and work on my acting. I’ve always tried to stay true to what my heart was telling me, even though it’s been a struggle.

Tony Phillips: Well, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about being in Showgirls before we concluded.

Tyce Diorio: That was amazing. What else can you say about "Showgirls?" I’m hope I’m going to be happy with this film.

Tony Phillips: Not to end on a down note, but how has this economic crisis we seem to be in affected your line of work?

Tyce Diorio: I don’t know how this is going to sound, but I’m going to be honest with you. I’ve never been out of work in my whole career. I never spent a minute ever worrying about a dollar. Ever. I own three homes. I drive a really nice car and not because I want to show off, but just because I can. I make a wonderful living as a choreographer and I don’t wish I was anything else. I have never ever struggled in my whole life since I’m 14 and it’s because of my drive. It’s hard, the business is hard. You don’t need me to tell you about that. We have to be friggin’ warriors. So that’s why I was what I was at "Chorus Line," but I’ve never even felt this recession at all. I understand it, but I’m just fortunate enough to be working constantly and making it all happen. I think dancers can make a wonderful living. And if you’re skilled it’s even better. You know, the "Chorus Line" people called me back in, did you know that?

Tony Phillips: No.

Tyce Diorio: Oh, yeah. They said we will not see him ever again after that final callback. Then about year later they called me in after they saw me on TV.

Tony Phillips: That’s kind of weird, do you think they just forgot it was you or they didn’t really mean to 86 you?

Tyce Diorio: Oh, they knew it was me. And Baayork Lee was so lovely to me. It was so amazing.

Tony Phillips: That had to mean a lot coming from one of the original animals. What did she say?

Tyce Diorio: She was like, "Oh my God, I have never seen anybody like you." It was fine. There was no tension, but then the show closed. Still, it was nice that they could see the light. That we could all see it.

Every Little Step opens in Los Angeles and New York on Friday, April 17, 2009.

Tony Phillips covers the arts for The Village Voice, Frontiers and The Advocate. He's also the proud parent of a new website: spookyelectricproductions.com.

Comments on Facebook