ShareThis Page
Theater

Pittsburgh's own Lenora Nemetz still dancing — this time in 'Half Time'

| Thursday, June 7, 2018, 9:57 a.m.

Pittsburgh's Lenora Nemetz is having a senior moment.

More like 150 of them.

That's the running time of “Half Time,” the Broadway-bound musical now in its East Coast premiere at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, N.J., in which the 68-year-old Nemetz has nailed the role of funky Fran, a member of a golden oldies hip-hop dance group performing at half time at basketball games.

Gotta dance? Gotta, says Nemetz, and has been since her childhood days on the North Side. “I don't remember when I started walking and talking, but I do remember always singing and dancing,” she says.

It has carried her far from Broadway to beyond as she preps for her current part in “Half Time “ based on the 2008 documentary “Gotta Dance,” a true-life tale of the NBA's New Jersey Nets' ageless hip-hop dance team.

It's a full-time gig for Nemetz, but then there's rarely been a hole in her schedule over the past 50 years. Nemetz puts the funk in Fran, an aging hipster with hip-hop moves that bely her age. “Dancing is in my blood,” she says. “It's the gift.”

It's all in her stage presence, which the actress has evinced as a protege of the late great choreographer/director Bob Fosse, who cast her as Velma Kelly, replacing Chita Rivera, in Broadway's “Chicago.” Indeed, she performed both lead roles — standing by for Gwen Verdon, portraying the other lead of Roxie Hart — in one day.

It is one day she will always remember, she claims with pride. Theater,” she says, “brings out the gypsy in me.”

You don't have to tell that to stage legend Patti Lupone, with whom Nemetz starred in the 2008 Broadway revival of “Gypsy.” Nemetz portrayed Mazeppa, the stripper who understands the value of a good gimmick to get along.

It is pure talent, not gimmicks, that has sustained the 50-year career of Nemetz, a woman of many parts including roles opposite Peter Allen and New York City Opera performances in “The Pajama Game.” Nemetz earned a Drama Desk Award nod for her work in the Broadway production of “Working.”

But she always finds herself working her way back to Pittsburgh, starring in numerous productions staged by CLO, Pittsburgh Musical Theater City Theater and the Pittsburgh Public Theater. Indeed, they're putting out the local welcome mat for her once more: Nemetz will be starring in the CLO production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” from Aug. 7 to 12, at the Benedum Center.

“I love Pittsburgh,” she says of the city she left for New York at age 18 but has never left in spirit. “There must be a spiritual connection,” infusing what she calls her “spiritual journey.”

On the road, back at home, the music never stops. Hip-hop happy? “Who'd of thunk that I'd be doing hip-hop” at this age, she says with a fond laugh.

But Nemetz has much in common with the kinetic moves she performs on stage. “This show is about hope and courage, a celebration of life!”

Living it up beside her on stage are such co-stars as Andre de Shields, Georgia Engel and Donna McKechnie, with direction and choreography by Jerry Mitchell (“Kinky Boots”).

Nemetz wraps herself in her hip-hop character but concedes the role is “a complicated challenge. It's not easy to do it.”

But, no problem, no complaints, she adds with a smile in her voice: “I'm strong. And exhausted.”

Michael Elkin is an award-winning features writer and playwright as well as novelist.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me