WINNIPEG — This city’s Jewish community has historically been known for exporting talented performers – among them Monty Hall of Let’s Make a Deal fame and comedian David Steinberg.
Three young Winnipeggers – Alex Frohlinger, Josh Assor and Lindsay Nelko – are following in the footsteps of Winnipeg Jewish actors who have gone before them.
Nelko, 27, is a choreographer for the TV series So You Think You Can Dance and will be choreographing her own show in New York City next summer.
Assor, 24, just completed his first run on Broadway in Mary Poppins.
Frohlinger, also 24, has just made her Broadway debut in Soul Doctor, the musical based on the life of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.
“I am still just taking it all in,” says Frohlinger. “I told my parents when I was seven that I wanted to have a career on the stage.”
Her entire family flew in from Winnipeg and elsewhere for opening night on Aug. 15 at the Circle in the Square theatre. Frohlinger plays the role of a holy beggar and is the understudy for another role.
Frohlinger and her two younger siblings, Joey, 22, and Becky, 19, have been performing in musical theatre almost all their lives. (Becky is currently enrolled in a musical theatre program in North Carolina while Joey just started working for Microsoft in Seattle.)
They all began their careers early in life on Winnipeg stages. Alex learned tap, jazz and ballet at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School. After graduating from the Gray Academy of Jewish Education, she moved to Boston to study music and dance at the Boston Conservatory, graduating in 2010.
Immediately afterward, Frohlinger was signed to a touring production of West Side Story. Over the next two years, she travelled all over North America. The tour finished in the summer of 2012 in Japan.
“It was a life-changing period,” she says of the tour. “I learned a lot about life on the road and life in general.”
As for her current production, she says she watched the show evolve from the beginning. “There’s a piece of all of us [the actors and production staff] in the show,” she says. “We are receiving standing ovations after every performance. It’s an open-ended run, and we hope Soul Doctor runs for a long time.”
Josh Assor was bitten by the performing arts bug in high school in Winnipeg. He started as a dancer in his high school’s performing arts program and moved into singing as well. But it has been as a dancer that he’s making his mark.
In 2009, Assor was performing at Stratford. Over the past few years, he has found himself in demand as a dancer, choreographer, teacher and dance judge throughout North America. He has won numerous awards for his choreography including a national award at L.A. Dance Force. He was recently a featured choreographer for I Move Forward, a cancer benefit show, as well as for the Toronto Choreographers Ball.
As with Frohlinger, his path to Broadway began with an extended road tour – in his case in the Mary Poppins road production – which also toured North America. After a year, he was promoted to the long-running Broadway show.
Assor played the role of Neleus, a Greek statue in the park that comes to life at various times and dances.
“Opening night for me was very special,” he says. “I loved the role. It was made for me. It was an unbelievable experience.”
The Broadway production came to an end in March after seven years. Since then, Assor has received his green card and has been doing a lot of teaching and workshops. He also filmed a commercial in Florida and was back in Winnipeg to appear as a dancer in a Manitoba Opera Company staging of Aida.
He’s also busy auditioning for future roles.
Unlike Assor and Frohlinger, Nelko prefers to remain behind the scenes.
The rising star has dancing and choreography in her genes. Her mother, Shelley Shearer, is a lifelong dance teacher in Winnipeg (the Shelley Shearer School of Dance) and Lindsay began her own training at a very young age. By age 14, she was an assistant teacher at he mother’s school, and she won her first choreography award at the Manitoba Dance Festival when she was 15.
Nelko’s big break came through her participation in the annual Pulse on Tour dance conventions in New York, which allowed her to showcase her work in front of the industry’s biggest names.
She won four Choreographer’s Pick Honours between 2010 and 2012 culminating in the Pulse Featured Choreographer award last year. As a result, leading choreographer/producer Brian Freedman took her under his wing. He hired her to work on The X Factor.
Another famed choreographer, Desmond Richardson, recommended her for So You Think You Can Dance. Her first choreographed piece for the show was shown on July 9 and won rave reviews.
“Being a choreographer on So You Think You Can Dance was such an incredbile experience and I am so grateful,” Nelko says.
In early August, Nelko finished as second runner-up at the Capezio A.C.E Awards (for choreographic excellence) in New York. Although she’s now based in Los Angeles, she is looking forward to returning to New York next summer to stage a show which is part of her prize.
In the meantime, her recent exposure has opened a lot of new doors for her in Los Angeles.
“It is a very exciting time,” she says.