FRESNO, Calif. — Choreographer and director Jeffrey Hornaday has loved musicals since he saw “Cabaret” 14 times when he was young. The veteran dance man never expected to find new fans who share his passion for the genre.
“I am so surprised that a young audience would embrace that old convention,” Hornaday said. “I guess it’s in the American DNA to like musicals.”
He’s counting on that interest in movie musicals for his new “Teen Beach Movie.” The made-for-cable film follows teen surfing sweethearts Brady (Ross Lynch) and McKenzie (Maia Mitchell), who ride the last wave of summer that mysteriously takes them into a classic beach party movie: “Wet Side Story.”
It’s a tale of surfers versus bikers who battle over a beach hangout — told with modern musical tastes.
“Teen Beach Movie” is the latest in a string of made-for-cable musicals on the Disney Channel that started with “High School Musical” in 2006. The movies use contemporary music and dance moves to attract large numbers of young viewers. The challenge of “Teen Beach Movie” was entertaining that young audience while blending elements from ’60s movies and Broadway shows.
“I started by looking at the old movies from the ’60s. I realized that the musical numbers weren’t real musical numbers but just kids dancing. I looked at this film like a Broadway show where the songs were very specific to what was going on in the sequence. That took the shackles off and I could come at it at a more imaginative point of view,” said Hornaday, who made a splash with “Flashdance” and created a singular dance sensation in the film version of “Chorus Line.”
His blend of styles includes a character in a fringe bikini that’s a nod to the beach movies, a dance that’s a tribute to the performance of “Cool” in “West Side Story” and a cast that will be familiar to the channel’s audience.
It won’t be the first time that he’s brought a new dance style to an audience. His choreography for “Flashdance” included the first use of break dancing in a feature film.
As for that famous “Flashdance” scene where Jennifer Beals gets soaked by gallons of water after a stage performance, the only direction Hornaday was given in the script was “she dances.” That number — water and all — was used to show the director and producers the approach he wanted to use. The film’s credited with rekindling an interest in movie musicals.
His understanding of how current music trends and dance go together extends beyond his film credits. Hornaday’s worked with some of the top names in the music industry: Paul McCartney, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Miley Cyrus, Reba McEntire, The Backstreet Boys, Mariah Carey, Lionel Richie, The White Stripes, Train, Devo.
The work with Jackson came through his choreography for “Captain EO,” the Francis Ford Coppola 3-D short film featuring Jackson that was shown in the Disney parks. Hornaday had pre-planned dance moves for Jackson, but as soon a rehearsals started the choreographer knew that Jackson wasn’t comfortable.
“I stopped the rehearsal and we just started improvising together. I videotaped that and took it home to study. That let me create a dance vocabulary for Michael where the dance numbers fit him better,” Hornaday said.
The hardest part about working on the 1986 film was dealing with the massive cameras needed at that time to film the 3-D effects.
Because of all the work he had done with films, tours, music videos, ad campaigns and special events, Hornaday finally had to take a break from directing and choreography.
He was lured back to work for the 2011 Disney Channel movie, “Geek Charming.” After “Teen Beach Movie,” he wants to make a musical he’s writing for the cable channel. It will give him another chance to create a new dance.