2017-07-07 / Community

‘Best of Broadway’ celebrates 25 years

By Molly Lovell-Keely
Managing Editor

Debra Lombard, director and choreographer of The Dance Company's "Best of Broadway," also performs in some of the company's numbers. The group will celebrate 25 years with shows on July 12 and July 13 at The Temple in Ocean Park. (Ben Nasse photo) Debra Lombard, director and choreographer of The Dance Company's "Best of Broadway," also performs in some of the company's numbers. The group will celebrate 25 years with shows on July 12 and July 13 at The Temple in Ocean Park. (Ben Nasse photo) SACO – When Debra Lombard thinks about the 25thanniversary of The Dance Company’s production of “The Best of Broadway,” she can’t believe she’s gotten to do what she loves for nearly three decades.

Director and choreographer, Lombard founded the troupe to bring musical theater into the lives of adult and children performers and audiences.

The 25th anniversary show will be held at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 12 and Thursday, July 13 at The Temple in Ocean Park. Tickets are $12 from a Dance Company member or at the door.

“What sticks out is the years we performed at City Theater and brought the schools in,” said Lombard, 60, of Saco. “We promoted musical theater to hundreds of school kids who would never get a chance to go to New York to see a professional show.”

Diane Dupuis, 70, of Biddeford, has been with The Dance Company since it was first formed. (Ben Nasse photo) Diane Dupuis, 70, of Biddeford, has been with The Dance Company since it was first formed. (Ben Nasse photo) Besides that, she said, what stands out about the last 25 years is the fun and comaraderie among members.

“The company is a family. We’re accepting of everybody, every ability and we’re about not taking life so seriously. You know, doing it for fun.”

Biddeford resident Diane Dupuis, 70, has been with The Dance Company since the beginning and said she’ll never forget when she met Lombard at a fundraiser for a local hospital.

“We were trying on costumes – they were one size fits all - and Debbie comes out picking at her costume and going on about puckering on one side.”

“My sister, Celeste, says, ‘This must be her first time,’” Dupuis said, laughing. “She’s come a long way since then.”

Dupuis also remembers when Lombard’s best friend, mentor and show business professional, Carl Schmehl, came up for a show, which he often did. He created original choreography for “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” on Broadway and gave Lombard permission to use it.

“We rehearsed it and when we were done, this little girl went up to Carl and says, “This isn’t what Debbie taught us.’ Well, he looked at her and said ‘It’s my number and I’ll do what I want.’ Poor little girl. I’m sure she had no idea who he was.”

The Dance Company has performed in all sorts of conditions, including stages that were school cafeteria tables and stages made of plywood.

“We’d dance anywhere,” Dupuis said. “I miss those days because it taught us to be prepared to deal with anything. One year we performed in Old Orchard Beach and our dressing room was a tent on the sand.”

Emerson Nasse, 9, of Saco, dances with two of her older sisters, Scout and Harper.

“Debbie teaches us really cool dance moves,” she said. “I like working with her.”

Her father, Ben Nasse, takes photos during the shows so Lombard can have professional material to publicize “The Best of Broadway.”

“It’s really cool to have most of my family doing the Dance Company,” she said, adding that she practices with her sisters at home, something she says brings them together.

“I want to do this for a long time. I’d really wanted to dance and Debbie made that come true.”

Lombard’s experience with Broadway goes far beyond Saco. She’s had the opportunity to be behind the scenes of productions that include, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and the Rockettes. She’s also performed with Ray Chew, Diana Ross and performed on the U.S.S. Intrepid in New York City.

“I try to put on a show that’s at the most professional level I can. I want the audience to look at it as a professional production even though we’re not working with all professionals,” she said, adding that she treats each of her dancers as a professional.

“Last week in rehearsals we were doing some things that didn’t look great, but I don’t worry. Everybody’s going to step up and the company is going to pull it off at showtime,” she said. “I’ve seen it happen over the years. Everybody gets better at it and the new ones get pulled along with the seasoned professionals.”

Former members of The Dance Company are coming back for the show and traveling from as far away as New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

Jeb Knight, 33, has known Lombard since he was 15 when she choreographed musicals at Bonny Eagle High School. He went on to study dramaturgy and studio art at Marymount Manhatten College in New York City.

“(Lombard) is super passionate about musical theater and what it means to be a good performer and cast member. She is absorbed in the whole theater making process,” Knight said, adding that Lombard has been a great friend and role model.

“If she’s having a bad day, you wouldn’t know it. She’s a trooper. She’s a professional. When something needs to be done, she’s going to go in there and get it done with a smile on her face. Don’t complain, always look good and be fun to be around and you’ll go far. She taught me that.”

“She’s got a grace and a fire that either you have or you don’t,” Knight added.

Knight, owner of Jeb Knight Fine Art and Design, and who lives in San Francisco, said he’s rehearsed for the upcoming show via video and won’t rehearse with the group in person until two nights before the show.

“It’ll be rough the first couple hours of rehearsal, I’ll go to sleep that night and magic will happen,” he said.

Knight respects Lombard for having a vision and making it happen.

“There will be bumps in the road, but when you come to the show, you might as well be at the Palace Theater on Broadway. Seriously, it’s that sort of put together show.”

Ryan McNally, 35, also met Lombard when he was a student at Bonny Eagle High School. Currently a New York City resident, he attended Marymount, like, Knight, but majored in dance, and has worked as a performer in small dance companies and has taught dance at public schools.

“Working with Deb gave me a kind of vigor that’s necessary for a performer in the professional world,” McNally said. “She puts on a full production. Performers are able to experience what life as a performer is like beyond a recital.”

From racing around backstage for the next number to having all costumes in place and ready to put on to working cohesively with the crew, McNally said Lombard showed him how many intricate pieces must come together in an instant, in real time, in front of an audience, to produce a show.

McNally said whether it’s your career or hobby, you have to find dancing fun to participate in a company like Lombard’s.

“Working with a company is very hard but what you find is this incredible joy and fun in working through how hard it is,” he said. “There’s such a sense of accomplishment. To have pulled it all off. You really push to get all those details together, you’ll do this number 10 times and you’re exhausted, but you do it one more time and you get it exactly right. Pushing through all those challenges can in itself, be an incredible joy. It’s the pinnacle of all the work that you’ve done over a period of time. It’s invigorating to go the next step, try something bigger, harder and to find a joy in the work and a joy in the difficulty.”

McNally recalls playing the role of “Joseph,” and the special care it took to perform with The Dance Company children.

“It’s about literally coming down to their level,” he said. “Adults are used to coming together and hitting their mark. With the young ones, you have to look them in the eye and make that connection to move together on stage. “

Traditionally “The Best of Broadway” ends with a high energy number from “Joseph.”

“It’s a blast,” McNally said. “There’s nothing better than having the audience on their feet, clapping and reveling in the absolute joy and diversity of musical theater. It’s a triumphant ending. Everybody gets a chance to shine as one big team. It’s not just one star. We’re all the star.”

Rebecca Garnache met Lombard while working on “The Wiz” at City Theater in Biddeford.

Garnache said The Dance Company was a lifeline for her growing up.

“Without a doubt.”

Garnache went to a small, liberal arts women’s college in Missouri where she majored in voice and acting.

“I knew from the start it was what I wanted to do with my life,” she said.

While Garnache has a full time job in Chicago - “having insurance is nice,” she said, laughing – she also sings in a a blues soul band, her true passion.

“I was never an incredible dancer,” she said, adding that it was the acting done in performances that had a lasting effect on her.

Lombard said she’s beyond excited for the return of Dance Company members.

“I just have such a love for them and everyone,” Lombard said. “I’m so thrilled that I have people coming back but I’m also thrilled to have people like Diane, who have been doing this from day one. People who have stuck it out for the 25 years.”

The show, far from a dance recital, members say, brings community together.

“There is an incredible community that comes out from little children to great grandparents,” McNally said. “If you haven’t seen the show before, you’ll like the music. There’s rock, there are things a little bit softer – maybe you’ll see something you haven’t seen before. Really, there’s something for everybody. It brings a community together to celebrate joyfully. You’ll walk out with a smile on your face.”

Return to top