Alumnus Danced from Brockport to Broadway
Wayne Cilento '72 — who staged 2003's Wicked — has spent 45 years on Broadway as a dancer, Tony Award-winning choreographer, and director.
Wayne Cilento ’72 had never taken a dance class when he was offered the lead role in his high school’s production of Oklahoma during his junior year.
For the early part of his life, social dancing and watching dance shows and musicals was the extent of Cilento’s exploration of his innate interest in the art.
“I had never considered pursuing dance as an occupation, but I had rhythm,” Cilento said with a chuckle.
Having worked at his uncle’s pharmaceutical factory since he was 14, Cilento had an opportunity to take over the business provided that he earned a degree in pharmacy. Upon graduating high school, he moved to Westchester County to enroll in a pharmaceutical program, but his passion for dance persisted. He explored it by participating in jazz dance classes a few times per week.
One day in his second year studying pharmacy, Cilento was flipping through a dance magazine when he noticed a spotlight about SUNY Brockport’s dance program.
“That was it,” said Cilento. “I got out of Westchester, and I enrolled at Brockport as a dance and physical education major.”
Partaking in Brockport’s dance program was Cilento’s first exposure to formal training. Today, he is versed in a number of styles as a professional dancer and Tony Award-winning choreographer, largely thanks to his multidimensional dance education.
“Attending Brockport was my crash course in dance,” he said. “I took composition classes that taught me about space and making that space come alive. All of that training comes back when you’re in the middle of putting something together. You learn so much from taking all of those different styles.”
As a student, Cilento studied ballet under instructor Bill Glassman of the American Ballet Theatre, who he considers an influential mentor and role model. Glassman is best known for playing the role of Billy in the revival of Billy the Kid.
“[Glassman] was really an amazing person and dancer for me to look up to and to aspire to be like,” said Cilento.
Soon after marrying his high school sweetheart, Cathy Colety, who also graduated from Brockport, Cilento made his Broadway debut in Seesaw. Since then, he has performed in a number of shows and commercials under the instruction of high-profile choreographers including Michael Bennett, Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, Ron Field, and Joe Layton.
Cilento played the role of Mike as a member of the original cast of A Chorus Line in 1975, a performance for which the ensemble received the Theatre World Award. Directed by Bennett, the show chronicles a day in the lives of 17 dancers as they audition for the chorus line of an unnamed Broadway musical. Cilento had previously worked with several of the others in the cast, and he describes the nature of the relationships they displayed in the show as similar to those they maintained "in life."
"I went in to an audition and was asked to read a monologue, and at first I thought it was a joke," said Cilento. "It was a story I had told in real life."
Cilento's portrayal of Mike began to develop.
"We were all really young, we didn't know what we were getting ourselves into, but we knew it was an opportunity," said Cilento. "It was really inspiring and terrifying, and we never knew it was going to be a mega hit. It changed all our lives."
In addition to his dance talent, Cilento was recognized early on in his career for his potential as a choreographer.
“I was dancing in a Dr. Pepper commercial, and one of the directors asked me if I wanted to choreograph a commercial,” said Cilento. “I started choreographing two to three commercials a month.”
Cilento’s career as a choreographer and director began to develop in the early 1980s. Over the years, he has choreographed more than 10 Broadway shows including Baby (1983), The Who’s Tommy (1993), How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1995 revival), Aida (2000), Wicked (2003), and American Dance Machine (2015). The Who’s Tommy won both the Tony Award for Best Choreography and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Choreography.
Cilento will be directing and choreographing an imaginative revival of Grease in Toronto, for which he is currently holding auditions, inspired by today’s generation of teenagers. He hopes to approach the project from “a new point of view.”
"I'm putting myself out there as a director and have a few new projects in the works. I can't wait to see what happens with them," said Cilento. "I feel like I've turned a corner in my career."