Guest instructor, director brings lessons from theater legends to Elon

Visiting Instructor in Performing Arts Jane Lanier is directing “A Chorus Line,” which runs Thursday through Saturday, and is teaching a course in Bob Fosse’s choreography this spring. She was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Supporting Actress for 1989’s “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway.”

A line of actors singing and dancing onstage
The cast of “A Chorus Line” performs in McCrary Theatre. The show opens Thursday night for four performances through Saturday. (Photo by Tony Spielberg)

Onstage, Jane Lanier was a triple threat — singing, dancing and acting her way to Tony Award and Drama Desk Award nominations.

As a visiting instructor and music theatre director at Elon, Lanier is exercising some formidable talents off-stage, as well.

Portrait of Jane Lanier
Visiting Instructor of Performing Arts Jane Lanier is a veteran theater performer and director.

Lanier is directing “A Chorus Line,” the Department of Performing Arts’ winter musical that premieres 7:30 p.m. Thursday in McCrary Theatre and runs through Saturday. The play centers on 17 Broadway dancers auditioning for a show’s chorus line with insights into their personalities and decisions to become dancers. It won the 1976 Pulitizer Prize for Drama.

This spring, she’s also teaching a special course in Bob Fosse’s iconic choreography. Lanier was directed by Fosse in the 1986 Broadway revival of “Sweet Charity” and was recruited by the late Fosse’s wife, Gwen Verdon, to perform in 1999’s “Fosse.” She is a Verdon Fosse Legacy teacher, preserving their artistic vision for future generations.

“I love watching this generation find their voice in this business,” Lanier said. “Being a performer my whole life and learning from some of the greats in this industry, I love being able to pay it forward and pass my knowledge to others. Plus, I never want to stop learning and the students teach me, also.”

Elon’s Music Theatre program is consistently recognized as among the nation’s best, and in 2023 the Princeton Review ranked Elon University eighth on its list of Best College Theater productions. Playbill routinely cites Elon as among the top producers of Broadway talent based on the number of alumni cast in shows.

Lanier was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1989 for “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway,” and was the first non-speaking dancer to be nominated in the category. A decade later, she was nominated as Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical at the Drama Desk Awards for her performance in “Fosse.”

An actor jumps into the air as others look on
The cast of a “A Chorus Line” onstage in McCrary Theatre. (Photo by Tony Spielberg)

Since leaving the stage, she’s focused on choreography, directing and teaching as a member of faculty at Roosevelt University, the University of California, Los Angeles and Pepperdine University. Lanier is a visiting professor at Elon through the 2023-24 academic year.

Elon’s production of “A Chorus Line” marks Lanier’s fourth turn directing the musical, which she also performed in five times and calls “a timeless masterpiece” for its universal characters and themes. It features the original choreography by Michael Bennett and Bob Avian, which was directed by Assistant Professor of Music Theatre Courtney Liu.

Q: What makes “A Chorus Line” so enduring?

A: It’s a story about what we give up as performers and how hard we work to reach our goals and dreams. It’s the struggle, and it’s the love. There are pieces of me in so many of those stories on stage. You will find parts of your life in those characters, too. It’s great watching this generation find this play that was built in the 1970s, sitting with it and telling the story from their perspectives.

Q: How have you seen Elon students grow in this production?

Actors perform a dance onstage
Singing and dancing in “A Chorus Line.” (Photo by Tony Spielberg)

A: This is a really difficult, technical dance show. We used rehearsal time for ballet class six mornings a week. The growth in Elon students has been incredible. One first-year student had never had a dance class, and seeing him from that first day of rehearsals today blows my mind.

“A Chorus Line” is structured to work a certain way and everything is choreographed, and lights and sets are a huge part of the story. Students are having lots of conversations and figuring out their characters, but there are certain things that there’s no room to individualize. In the closing number, every finger, every eye, every head needs to be exactly the same, and that was very different for our students because they’d never experienced a show like this. They’ve embraced it.

Q: What was it like working with Bob Fosse?

A: It was my dream come true. He hired me when I was 22 years old, and I knew him the last year and a half of his life. He is the only director to win the triple crown — a Tony Award for Best Director for “Pippin,” an Emmy Award for Best Director for “Liza With A ‘Z’” and the Oscar for Best Director for “Cabaret” — all in the same year, 1973. With someone like that in the room, you want to be the very best you can be and nothing less. We’d rehearse eight hours a day, and I was so sore I had to crawl to the shower the next morning, but I loved it.

Q: Where do you find joy in directing and choreographing shows?

A: I love creating, and in directing and choreographing, I’m still using a creative voice and my experience from all those years to go to the other side of the table. I love the whole process of working with the lighting designer, the set designer, the costumer and collaborating to create something new. It keeps me learning.”