Lanny Mitchell was born a performer. But even he probably didn’t expect to tour Broadway and dance with legends like Michael Jackson and Bob Fosse.
Mitchell grew up in Pasadena, California, and had a reputation for singing at the top of his lungs in the early hours of the morning.
“I’m a singer, that’s my forte. The dancing and acting came after,” Mitchell said.
Out of high school, he attended California State University, Los Angeles. But with a year and a half of college under his belt, he was cast for his first broadway tour in The Wiz.
This was the first of many professional shows.
Throughout his life, Mitchell has performed countless roles. He appeared on New York’s Broadway stages in Sophisticated Ladies, Dream Girls, The Wiz and Dancing with Bob Fosse himself.
I was shocked at the mention of Bob Fosse — a revolutionary dancer and choreographer whose unique syncopated and isolated movements appear in musicals like Chicago, Cabaret, All The Jazz and many more. Mitchell worked with many world famous names like Gregory Hines, Michael Bennett, Louis Jordan and Twyla Tharp as well.
But the name that really took me by surprise: Michael Jackson. Lanny danced in some of Jackson’s most famous music videos such as Bad, Beat it and Thriller. He recalls being amazed at Jackson’s ability. After he and the other dancers had practiced a routine for a month, Jackson would walk in and film the shot in three takes.
“It was unreal. It was amazing. Because we were all professionals and we were left with our jaws dropped. And that’s hard to do when you have a bunch of diva dancers,” Mitchell said.
But working with big names wasn’t always easy.
Mitchell was once cast as a lead dancer for Lester Wilson — a choreographer best known for his work in Saturday Night Fever with John Travolta. On his first day, while learning choreography from Wilson, Mitchell let out a gasp of amazement at the routine. Later that day, Mitchell received a phone call from his agent notifying him that Wilson had let him go due to his outburst. There’s no business like show business, I guess.
After 19 years of living on the east coast, Mitchell is sharing his wealth of knowledge and experience with children in Eugene.
Upstart Crow Studios, a local children’s theater in Eugene, is unlike any other because every child that auditions is cast in the show. This means casts might be as big as 50 kids, which can be hard to handle for those in charge. When the founder, owner and director at Upstart Crow, Eularee Smith, was diagnosed with cancer, she had to hire a replacement director for the group’s production of Mary Poppins.
Mitchell boldly directed the show, taking on 54 young actors and actresses.
Originally, Mitchell came to Eugene to be closer to his West Coast family, but claims he has found a second family at Upstart Crow. He believes that “theater is for all talent” and he admires the way Upstart gives every kid an opportunity to perform.
Mitchell has faced unexpected challenges while working with kids from the West Coast. Children from the East Coast are often more familiar with Broadway and performing, while the performance world can be foreign to those growing up out west.
“There is a lot of talent here, but they just don’t know it,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell can be spotted in studios and theaters all over Eugene. In August, he will be participating in a filmed reading of an up-and-coming Broadway show written by a Lane Community College alumnus.
Tavari Groesbeck, a student at Upstart Crow, appreciates Mitchell’s dedication.
“He works hard for us and he always stays after rehearsal if we need extra help. He’s a great person to have around,” Groesbeck said.