When choreographer Jamal Sims was working on two of the projects for which he now has Emmy nominations, he was experiencing a bit of whiplash. After all, he was planning ABC Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration and Disney+ Charm at the Hollywood Bowl at the same time. “I would leave the test of Beauty and the Beast and go down the street not even a mile and walk into the rehearsal to Charm right after,” he says. “Usually you can decompress afterwards. I didn’t have that.”
The music at least helped him get into the right headspace. “These are shows that sound so different,” he says, noting the latter, “the moment those songs come on, you’re in Charm.”
With Beauty and the BeastSims, which also received an Outstanding Choreography for Scripted Programming nomination this year for Paramount+’s Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies — had to tackle a musical that the public already knows very well. “People who love Beauty and the Beast I’ve seen it all,” he says. “They’ve seen it on the ice.” So how do you reinvent a classic?
Sims was nominated, along with co-choreographers Phillip Chbeeb and Makenzie Dustman, for their performance of the classic theme “Be Our Guest,” with Martin Short as the French chandelier Lumière. Working from a concept that originated in part with executive producer Jon M. Chu, the action opens with gloved hands reaching up from under a giant table to represent dancing cutlery as musician HER, who plays Belle, observe.
“Weirdly enough, they were sitting on these little cymbals that have wheels, so some of the performers had to slide over to the other side to do another part,” recalls Sims. “I wish we could have filmed what was going on underneath, because that was the show, what was going on under the table when all those props were going around.” They also had to make sure they didn’t hit Short.
During his long career, Sims has worked in the Increase movies, among many others, and has spent a lot of time on television, that is, choreographing RuPaul’s Drag Race. However, this year marks her first Emmy recognition, but she admits the Emmy nomination pink ladies It’s a bit bittersweet given that Paramount+ canceled the series, a prequel to the beloved 1950s-set musical, and removed it from its platform.
Sims was “very disappointed” to learn that the series would no longer be available for streaming. “I don’t think there’s ever been a show that has that many original songs and musical numbers in 10 episodes,” he says.
In pink ladies, Sims paid homage to the iconic moves of Patricia Birch, who choreographed the 1978 film and directed its 1982 sequel. “We were actually doing something new,” Sims continues. “It was innovative, and I loved it a lot. Having it removed really shows where we are in the industry as well, because as artists, all we have is our art that we make.”
when it came to CharmSims was very familiar with the material because he had been the choreographer for the animated version. “I have to take it and just blow it up,” he says. On the Bowl stage, the opening number, “The Family Madrigal,” for which Sims received his nomination, turns into a colorful extravaganza during which the audience meets the main characters.
“Every person we introduce has to feel exciting, and the kids have to feel like, ‘Oh, this is magical and it’s happening right before my eyes!’ says Sims. And while it was the live-filmed version that caught the attention of the TV Academy, the “greatest feeling” for Sims was seeing the kids react when the show was presented live. “It was so amazing,” he says.
This story first appeared in the August 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here for subscribe.