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Rhonda Mann is back on center stage this weekend in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The local dance instructor plays the scheming noblewoman who seduces Joseph (Will Vaughan), even as she choreographs dances for the 50-member cast. Photo by Phil Houseal

Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat runs through this weekend. For times and tickets: Go online at www.fredericksburgtheater.org; call 888-669-7114 toll-free or 830-997-3588; or stop by the box office, 306. E. Austin St., Tuesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
To contact Ms Rhonda's School of Dance call 997-0756.

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Rhonda Mann:
Back in the spotlight

by Phil Houseal
July 2, 2008


The Egyptian temptress slinks across the stage, plants a leg on the young prince's chest, and beckons him to sample the pleasures of the Nile.

This dance of seduction is not the typical routine for Rhonda Mann. The dance instructor is more at home hovering in the wings guiding shy 4-year-olds through their first recitals. Yet this weekend, Mann finds herself on center stage for the first time in decades. She plays the scheming wife of Potiphar in the FTC production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

"It's exhilarating!" said a gasping Mann after opening night. "It was quite fun. I really enjoyed it!"

Rhonda Mann grew up dancing. She had her own dance studio for 17 years in Houston, and has run Ms Rhonda's School of Dance in Fredericksburg since 1992.

Coincidentally, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was the first show Mann choreographed with FTC in 1999.

"Jeryl Hoover approached and asked me to help with choreography," Mann said. "It was the first time I ever worked with live theater, and I just got this sincere passion for it. I love it. I'd do live theater all the time if I could."

Watching Mann work, it appears that complete choreography simply spills from her mind to her dancer's feet. Not so.

Mann spends many hours preparing. After meeting with the director to learn which parts will feature dance, she listens to the music 100 times. Then she writes down all the counts, dissecting the tunes into blocks of beats. She matches those measure to steps that reflect the action and advance the story.

She scrawls notes on a legal pad that is always on her hip during rehearsal.

"I write it out, and sometimes it works when I see them do it," she said. "That's when the fun begins."

The fun includes working around props and scenery, dealing with bulky costumes, and often, just directing traffic, a big issue when you put 50 bodies on stage at the same time. In community theater, those bodies may be young or old, large and small, sore of joint, or spare of dance training. Mann accommodates them all.

"I have to choreograph stuff that is quickly doable but not too easy or hard," she said. "I have to make them look really good, so it can't be too challenging. They have to be confident in what they are doing, or it will show on stage."

Choreography goes beyond dancers. Mann also coordinates the gestures of the chorus, works out fight scenes, and shows actors how to move, sit, and react.

"It seems each show we are doing more and more dance," Mann noted. "It has evolved because they are seeing how much the audience loves the action and the movement and the dance. But," she added, "actors have to be able to dance while still singing. As Jeryl always says, this is a musical, not a 'dance-ical.'"

For this show, Mann is working with Ryan Hoover, who is directing for his first time. He welcomes her contributions to the show.

"Dance helps tell the story," he said. "If you see an action and hear a word at a certain time, it helps you understand it. Dance fills the stage with good things to look at that accentuate what is going on at that time in the story."

In a world that can be filled with temperamental "artistes," Hoover appreciates Mann's approach.

"Rhonda is obsessive-compulsive in a good way; she will polish something until it is way past mirror finish, and that's always a good thing," he said. "That's why her choreography always looks excellent. Working with her is so incredibly easy because she is always positive, always supportive, and talented. She is probably the best teacher of anything that I've ever been around. The thing she does where she can make up a dance and show it to you, then turn around and do the mirror image of it without even thinking about it - I always like watching that."

This weekend, so will you.