Nerds unite!

Bucks local Connor Schwantes shares details on choreographing ‘Other World'

Local talent: New Hope-Solebury High School alum Connor Schwantes is the associate choreographer of ‘Other World’ – a brand new musical-comedy adventure at Bucks County Playhouse. Source: Connor Schwantes

Connor Schwantes never imagined that being a self-described “extreme nerd” would someday land him a paying job. But that’s the exact reason (not to mention his vast resume and talent) he was hired as the associate choreographer of Other World – a brand new musical-comedy adventure that’s set to celebrate opening night at Bucks County Playhouse at a to-be-determined date due to the coronavirus.

The New Hope-Solebury High School alum was brought on by the show’s choreographer Karla Puno Garcia, a swing in Broadway’s Hamilton whom he met through other projects.

“She called me up asking, ‘You’re a nerd, right?,’” he reflected with a laugh. “So many elements of the show are entrenched in pop culture, nerd community stuff, while also still being very, very musical theater.”

The original adventure, which features a book by Hunter Bell and music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen and Ann McNamee, follows ultimate gamer Sri and party-happy Lorraine. At one moment, the pair is in a garage on Earth. The next, they’re magically transported into Sri’s favorite video game, “Other World.” Trapped with no way out, this unlikely duo is forced into the ultimate scavenger hunt and must work together to find their way home. Other World explores the connections we make on and off-line, and the families and friendships we need to thrive in any world.

“The show is unlike any other show, with the most diverse cast that has ever appeared on stage,” Schwantes said. “I want everyone to come see this because it is extremely beautiful and immersive, and something that’s emotionally immersive. There is something that everyone can attach themselves to in the cast. We have people in giant costumes, we have monsters, we have jazz, we have the best singing you can imagine and a beautiful group of people who are executing all of this stuff amazingly.”

For Schwantes, whose favorite theater credits include Sophisticated Ladies and West Side Story, in addition to appearances on Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, it’s a thrill to help make movement for a never-before-seen production.

“It is super cool to create a whole new vocabulary for a group of individuals who all have to express their individuality, but it all has to be on the same count,” he said. “It’s really a lot of fun. Because the cast is so diverse, that’s actually a very interesting and beautiful challenge. What you end up having to do is making something completely unique in its own way.”

When asked about the choreography style of Other World, Schwantes described it as the “new-age of contemporary theater” and something that has “never been seen before at Bucks.” According to him, the show’s director, Adrienne Campbell-Holt, is opposed to the inclusion of unnecessary dance breaks.

“We’re not trying to add anything else, unless it is specifically to push the plot along,” he said. “We want everything to tie into the main thread of pushing our two heroes to the end of the story.”

Other World is the third world premiere musical produced at the Playhouse since its reopening in 2012. Previous shows include Rock and Roll Man: The Alan Freed Story in September 2017, and The New World in November of the same year. Executive producer Robyn Goodman said the theater’s mission is to continually push boundaries.

“The Playhouse was opened in 1939 by artists including Moss Hart, who wanted to test new and exciting work outside of New York City, and with shows like Other World, we are continuing that tradition,” she said. “When we first saw a reading of this musical over a year ago, it checked all the boxes. It is fresh, bold and one of our main criteria – a story we have never seen on stage before. As the largest, most technically difficult show we have ever undertaken, it also enhances our capabilities for the future.”

Schwantes shared her sentiment.

“I hope people are interested in finding something new because original musicals are very hard to come by these days, especially big shows. They don’t really happen as much anymore,” he said. “It is hard, in a sense, to get them going because people are just scared to get behind them. So, I think it’s super cool that we’re taking big swings in a time where other people are not.”

The cast of Other World is led by Michael Maliakel as Sri and Ryah Nixon as Lorraine. Heather Mac Rae (Broadway’s original Sheila in Hair) is Myra.

Information on the postponement of Other World is available at buckscountyplayhouse.org. Bucks County Playhouse is located at 70 S. Main St., New Hope.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com