- Associated Press - Sunday, April 6, 2014

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - The group is preparing for “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” one of the musical revues the Moranzes are famous for.

On Brad’s yellow pad, he’s itemized all the moves for each of about 30 songs, though he’s barely referring to the lists. He’s been through this before; it’s second nature.

The dancers, too, are experienced professionals and they learn the moves quickly, with just a couple of run-throughs.

Spin, stomp, point, bounce. Jenny smiles from the back, Brad seems unfazed, though they still have more than two dozen songs to get through and the show is opening in 10 days.

Soon, the singers and band members will all be in town and ready to put live music to the choreography. Things are starting to come together.

“The whole cast,” Brad Moranz says, nearly whispering. “I’m just crazy excited about it.”

Brad and Jenny Moranz have spent most of their lives in the theater. They were on stage as children. While growing up in Texas, Brad studied music composition and acting, and he learned to dance.

Jenny went to dance class as a kid in her little North Carolina town of Whiteville and caught the bug early. At East Carolina College, she majored in dance and met instructor Frank Wagner, who had New York connections and encouraged Jenny to audition for a production of “Music Man” at Jones Beach on Long Island. Wagner was the director and choreographer.

She got the part, then auditioned at Radio City for “Snow White,” also directed by Wagner. After Wagner was hired to choreograph “New York Summer” for the Rockettes, he arranged a private audition for Jenny, who became a summer replacement dancer, then a full-time kicker. She spent four years as a Rockette. “But she always wanted to be a Broadway dancer, so she took lots of dance classes,” her husband said.

In the mid-1980s she joined the cast of “42nd Street.” A couple of years later, she was in “Singin’ in the Rain.”

“Everyone thought she was crazy to leave the Rockettes,” Brad Moranz said. It was a secure, long-term job with decent pay. “But she wanted to dance.”

Brad attended the University of Houston with classmates Randy and Dennis Quaid. They worked together as entertainers at the amusement park AstroWorld for a while. Brad Moranz got his start in musical revues at age 18. He studied acting and ballet. He wrote songs.

In the late 1970s, he was cast as an understudy in the national touring company of “A Chorus Line.” He filled in for the fellow playing the director Zach, or the tapper playing Mike. Moranz was on stage in San Diego when the show’s creator Michael Bennett attended a performance.

“Next time you’re in New York, call me,” the veteran told the up-and-comer.

Next time Moranz was in New York, he called Bennett, and the two of them spent an hour in conversation. Moranz learned a valuable lesson from one of American theater’s major figures: It didn’t matter how good you were, execution could be learned; what mattered was whether you were believable, whether your heart was in it, whether your intentions were clear and sound.

Next, Moranz was cast as an understudy in Howard Ashman’s “Little Shop of Horrors.” He played Seymour (the lead), and the sadistic dentist and Audrey II, the carnivorous plant. He had the right voice for it.

When he joined the production of “Singin’ in the Rain” (the one staged by Twyla Tharp in the mid-1980s), he met Jenny.

“She was a chorus girl who laughed at my jokes,” he recounted. “We fell in love in that show and have been inseparable ever since.”

There were a couple of other shows the two got involved in, but by 1987 she had turned down a spot in a production of “South Pacific” with Robert Goulet and he had turned down a part in “Me and My Girl” starring Tim Curry. They were in Los Angeles, finishing up the “Singin’ in the Rain” tour, and faced a decision: they could stay out west, go back to New York and keep at it, or … what?

“Most (couples) in the theater … are going to be separated by their work,” Brad Moranz said. Both already had been through failed relationships and they didn’t want to take that chance this time, he said.

So in 1988, they moved to Wilmington, N.C., near Jenny’s birthplace, and started a dance school. They got some film work, and soon poked their noses into a local theater. From this point forward, they would work as much off stage as on. Their career would veer in a new direction.

They heard about a production of “Singin’ in the Rain” at the Opera House Theatre Company, a regional theater run by Lou Criscuolo.

“I was looking for a director and choreographer,” Criscuolo said.

And so began a seven-year relationship with the theater in Wilmington. The Moranzes worked on lots of musicals, and they starred in a few of them.

Brad is very, very creative. He can come up with ideas, and you just say, ‘Are you out of your mind?’ He’s a wonderful choreographer,” Criscuolo said. “He was always pushing to extremes, and that’s what I loved about him.”

And Jenny was right there, all the way, he said.

By 1995, the Moranzes were longing to return to professional theater. They wanted to get back on stage on a regular basis. So they took their resumes to Carolina Opry in Myrtle Beach. At their audition the next day, they were asked to help run a new enterprise in Charleston, the Carolina Opry’s “Serenade Show” at the Music Hall. It was a musical revue the Moranzes would direct, choreograph and star in.

“We ended up doing it all,” Brad Moranz said.

It ran for more than three years, until the controlling shareholder, The Family Channel, was swallowed by a larger corporate media fish. The new owner scanned its holdings and trimmed its budget, Moranz said.

The “Serenade Show” closed, but the Moranzes would not give up; they continued to present musical revues and Christmas shows. “We learned what it meant to be a producer,” he said.

They kept plugging away, and they built a following.

Bill Schlitt, co-founder of Company Company and producing director of “The Sound of Charleston,” met the Moranzes in the 1990s, before “Serenade” closed.

“I was already a big fan of theirs,” Schlitt said. “I really enjoyed their work, I thought they were really bringing an extraordinary product to Charleston.”

When “Serenade” closed, Brad Moranz contacted Schlitt to see if teamwork might help keep things going. Schlitt was happy to write letters of support and speak publicly about how valuable the Moranzes were to the community.

“I guess that began our friendship,” he said. There was a lot of mutual admiration, and over the next few years, they tried to cast each other in their respective shows. Schlitt did one of the Moranz’s holiday shows; the Moranzes joined one of Schlitt’s Good Time Variety Hours and a big, outdoor July 4th production about 10 years ago.

“They’re good people, and they bring to Charleston a product that is always consistent, always extraordinarily professional and polished,” Schlitt said. “They bring wonderful artists to the city, and they bring joy to a lot of people.”

Their Christmas shows at The Charleston Music Hall draw big crowds of admiring fans; perhaps 10,000 will show up over the course of a dozen family-friendly stagings. Their sole purpose is to entertain and make audiences laugh, Brad Moranz said.

“If I can’t lift people’s spirits in some way, I don’t want to do it,” he said.

“Shake, Rattle and Roll” is a little like “Happy Days” meets “Grease,” and will star eight characters in what Moranz is calling a jukebox musical.

“We always write ourselves into every show because it gives us a chance to perform,” he said.

Jenny Moranz had hip-replacement surgery in August, so she’s not the active dancer she once was. But she’s looking forward to spending more time on stage soon, she said.

The people they cast are a combination of Broadway and local people, some of whom have become regulars, Jenny said. And working in Charleston, with its growing network of talented performers, has been especially rewarding, she added.

Brad, who teaches tap at the Charleston Dance Institute, is keeping himself sharp and fit.

“I’m doing what I love to do,” Brad Moranz said. “I get to do all the stuff I’m interested in here: producing, writing, singing, dancing, directing, working with Jenny. I get to choose what I get to do.”

In July, Brad and Jennifer Moranz will present “The Charleston Variety Show,” followed by “The Great American Songbook” in October.

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