Riverdale star Casey Cott is sitting in front of me in a powder blue suit that looks like it would be more at home at a '70s prom than a 2018 Vancouver community arts centre, which is where we’re actually perched on a brisk February morning. Before I can finish asking Kevin Keller’s portrayer what, exactly, surprised him about filming his CW show’s upcoming musical episode, airing Wednesday 18th April, Cott is throwing out his knee-jerk response. “K.J. Apa’s dancing.”
Wait… among all the razzle dazzle of Riverdale’s take on Broadway cult classic Carrie: The Musical and all the disco-ready outfits that go with it, the biggest shocker is Archie Andrews’ moves? Well, shockingly, yes. As Cott further explained, “[His dancing] really is something I never thought I needed until I saw it.” While talking to the rest of the cast during production of the musical episode, it became clear Apa’s boogieing will be the most memorable part of “Chapter Thirty-One: A Night to Remember,” no questions asked.
To understand just how jaw-dropping Apa’s dancing is, all you need to know is the Riverdale cast gave the New Zealand actor’s musical persona its own name, as his on-screen girlfriend Camila Mendes revealed with a proud smile.
“K.J. is a great dancer. When we go out, K.J. dances, he’s great. But this is a different kind of dancing. This is musical theater dancing and jazz hands. K.J. fully embraced it,” the actress explained, still in her period-piece appropriate high-waisted denim. “He has this alter-ego whom we’ve named Fiona — FiFi for short.
FiFi, from all accounts, is Apa’s Sasha Fierce. “She comes out and she comes out hard. She goes in,” Mendes explained. “K.J. went so all-out that he fell back on his chair.”
It makes sense Apa had so many chances to bring “Fiona” out during production, as he’s pulling leading man double duty. Archie will serve as Tommy Ross, the leading man in Riverdale High’s Carrie production, against Cheryl Blossom as the musical's titular, telekinetic star. But, the episode isn’t merely 42 minutes of a teenage Broadway adaptation. Instead, as Cott, whose character Kevin will direct the musical, explained, “We also have these stylised musical moments that happen through the episode.” So, Apa will be performing as both Tommy and Archie.
While it may sound like Apa’s talent is a running joke among the Riverdale cast, everyone actually shares a legitimate reverence for Apa’s leave-it-all-onstage sensibilities.
“It’s like the most incredible thing you’ve ever seen,” Lili Reinhart, who plays teen super-sleuth Better Cooper and Archie's sometimes-love interest, said. “But it doesn’t surprise me, [because] K.J.’s such a goofball and he doesn’t get to show that too much.”
Even “A Night To Remember’s” choreographer Heather Laura Gray, who has also worked on the dancier episodes of fellow CW series iZombie, seems impressed. “It’s been phenomenal how quickly he absorbs the material and can perform it so quickly,” Gray said, recalling a moment the actor performed someone else’s routine by memory. “I actually saw him, I think it was day two of shooting, while we were on break, he fully repeated a duet Camila did with Jordan [Connor, who plays Sweet Pea], on his own. He just decided to do that all on his own.”
It’s no surprise everyone was having so much fun on set, as Gray makes the entire episode sound much lighter than a traditional Riverdale episode, which is is usually filled with mobsters, serial killers, and live burials. There will be none of that in the musical episode, where the aforementioned Mendes will bring to life popular cheerleader Chris Hargensen and Reinhart will play reformed mean girl Sue Snell.
“The [dance] movements for sure and the musical bring this light-hearted, over-the-top sometimes theatre vibe,” choreographer Gray detailed detailed. “Regardless of what’s actually happening on camera, the sound you’re hearing is going to brighten your day.”
And, if the big musical numbers and zippy tunes don’t work to add some sunshine to your life, you can simply dream of K.J. Apa’s Broadway debut. As Lili said, “He’d have one great performance and then be done. [K.J. Apa:] One Night Only, one man show.”
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