From the moment Miley Cyrus is dramatically lowered onto the stage and begins performing as Hannah Montana, her Best of Both Worlds show is nonstop kinetic excitement—filled with glittering outfits, eye-popping pyrotechnics, multimedia imagery and show-stopping dance numbers that allow Miley’s full range of talents, and both sides of her fictional and real persona, to shine.
Behind her hit show’s celebratory rhythms and motions lies Kenny Ortega, who has long been sought after by the world’s highest-profile rock and pop stars—from Cher to Madonna—to choreograph their Broadway-quality concerts and videos. More recently, Ortega has perfected his love of joyful, spirited musical numbers as the director of the runaway hits “High School Musical” and “High School Musical 2.” Ortega had met Miley Cyrus when she performed a cameo in the finale of “High School Musical 2,” and with all his years in entertainment watching young phenoms rise, he knew right away she was something special.
Shortly after, he met with Miley and her parents to discuss the idea of working together, and a close partnership was born.
“I knew Miley was the real deal,” recalls Ortega. “Her energy, spirit and enthusiasm reminded me of Cher, whom I had worked with for many years. I couldn’t wait to get to work with her on her new tour.”
As that work began, Ortega became even more impressed by what he was witnessing. “Every day in rehearsals I saw Miley grow, and on tour, in front of an audience, she had the poise and stage presence of someone twice her age and experience,” he continues. “Watching her perform in front of thousands of screaming fans is like watching anyone else in the comfort of their living room. What I particularly enjoy and admire about Miley is that she is always present in the work. While some performers get lost in the choreography, Miley has an amazing sense of herself and never loses sight of that no matter what paces you’re putting her through.”
For the “Best of Both Worlds” tour, Ortega joined forces with Miley’s longtime choreographer, Teresa Espinosa, in designing the dance numbers and also credits ample creative input from Miley and her mother, Tish. For Ortega, this kind of multigenerational collaboration was, in itself, “the best of both worlds.” “My background in music began in the early ’70s when I was directing and choreographing videos and tours for the Tubes, Kiss, Fleetwood Mac, Elton, Devo, Madonna, Michael Jackson and many others. So it’s a wonderful thing when you can share what you’ve learned and love with a whole new generation of artists.
It just proves that everything old, with a little twist, can be new again,” he muses. When it came to designing the stage set for the show, Miley and Ortega agreed that they wanted something completely new and different than the same-old standard setup. “We set out to design a set that would serve each of the three acts as headliners: Jonas Brothers, Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus. We first discussed that we didn’t want Jonas Brothers to open the show in front of black curtain in the usual style. Instead, we designed their entrance with the three brothers lowered in on a flying truss,” notes Ortega.
More excitement developed from there. Ortega continues: “Then it became important that we follow the Jonas Brothers’ entrance with something equally as cool and surprising for both Hannah’s and Miley’s entrances. Since Hannah is a TV star, we thought lowering her to the stage in a giant video box would be really exciting and appropriate. Finally, when Miley kicks off her portion of the show with ‘Start All Over,’we added an elevator entrance at the end of the runway because we wanted to introduce Miley to the stage as close to the audience as possible.” Ortega notes that production designer Michael Cotten was key to creating the unique and playful video dimension of the stage show. “Michael is a video and media wizard. What great fun it was working with a master in designing the video look of the tour,” he comments.
More fun was had with the tour’s costumes, which reflect both Hannah Montana’s glitzy rocker style and Miley Cyrus’ more typical teenage sense of fun. “I worked closely with Miley, Tish, Teresa and the costume design team of Dahlia Foroutan, Tiffany Feller and Jill Focke to come up with the looks. I also worked closely with the Jonas Brothers’ stylist, Michelle Tomaszewski, for their look,” notes Ortega. The tour producer and choreographer loved having the opportunity to work with another exciting new act in the Jonas Brothers, who open Miley’s show with a bang. “They are some of the most exciting young performers I’ve seen on stage in years,” he says. “These guys don’t waste a moment, and it shows in everything that they do. Their backgrounds in music and theatre and the dues they’ve paid for years on stage before anyone knew who they were have chiseled them into one of the great new up-and-coming forces in rock and roll. In my opinion, Jonas Brothers have only one place to go: up! I loved every minute with these guys in rehearsal and watching them thrill audiences all over the country as they exploded on to the stage night after night giving it all up.”
It was that raw essence of vitality and emerging creativity in both the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus that Ortega hopes his design of the show allows to come to the fore. “I really had great fun with them,” admits Ortega. “When you see something click in a young performer, and you know that you’ve had something to do with leading them to that place, it’s the greatest feeling. Gene Kelly did that for me and it’s wonderful to see it happen again.”