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How James Corden's Crosswalk The Musical Choreographer Makes Theater In The Street

Choreographer Chloe Arnold (R) teaches Late Late Show host James Corden and actor Dan Stevens the dance moves to the Crosswalk the Musical version of Beauty and the Beast. (Terence Patrick/CBS)
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If you've ever watched the Late Late Show with James Corden and seen any of their Crosswalk the Musical segments (like The Sound of Music with Allison Janney, Hair with Lin-Manuel Miranda or The Greatest Showman with Hugh Jackman and Zendaya), you might think the police close the intersection down for safety. Chloe Arnold, the show's choreographer, is here to set the record straight: they most certainly do not.

"Though there are police there to oversee and protect it all, it's still very real," Arnold told KPCC's The Frame. "We're not closing the street down. This is in real time."

That means Arnold, her dancers, Corden and any special guests have just 30 seconds -- sometimes 45, depending on the crosswalk -- to do their song-and-dance numbers.

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Usually they put them on at Beverly Boulevard and Genesee Avenue outside CBS Television City in L.A., but for the episode that scored Arnold her first Emmy nomination, it was the crosswalk outside the Ed Sullivan Theater in Manhattan.

In that episode, Arnold was tasked with choreographing routines to trimmed down songs from On The Town, Guys and Dolls, the Greatest Showman and Fame. The other four nominees in her category are all from So You Think You Can Dance.

Arnold explained that she and her dancers do a series of time trials with all the props they'll have to carry to see what needs to be tweaked. Everyone has to be able to hit their marks, finish the number, and get out of the crosswalk (with all their props in tow) within the 30-45 second time limit.

"It's truly the example of teamwork makes the dream work," Arnold said. "Because if one person is off, it throws off the whole puzzle. This really is a puzzle."

Late Late Show host James Corden (L) and actor Orlando Bloom practice their "IT Guys" sketch on set with choreographer Chloe Arnold (R). (Terence Patrick/CBS)

Another big challenge for Arnold: keeping a straight face.

"Once James [Corden] steps in, you want to laugh at everything, but what makes what we're doing funny is that we take it very seriously. So I always have to tell the dancers: 'You approach the crosswalk like this is Broadway. Like this is the best thing you've ever done in your life.' And that's what makes it so funny, because people that are driving by are like, Why is there a full-blown production in the street?"

Arnold's path to her Emmy nomination this year started with tap dance lessons at the age of 6. By 14, she was teaching tap to 3- and 4-year-olds, in exchange for her own dance lessons. She credits her teachers Toni Lombre and Debbie Allen with encouraging her to learn other styles of dance too -- including ballet, jazz, swing, hip-hop and modern dance.

But Arnold never lost her love of tap. She and her sister Maud lead an all-female tap company called Syncopated Ladies:

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From an early age, Arnold knew she wanted to do dance and choreography for a living -- but when she went to college at Columbia University, she decided to study film.

"What made dance accessible to me, growing up in Washington D.C. with limited resources, was television and film," Arnold said. "These are things that are just more financially accessible than [theater]. ... So for me, I always had dreams from when I was very little, I saw the movie Tap with Gregory Hines and I thought, This is what I want to do one day. I want to put dance on film."

Now she's been doing choreography for television for 14 years. What she loves most about her work on The Late Late Show is that it has the potential to spark a love of dance and musical theater in someone who isn't already a fan, Arnold said.

"People that aren't going to go Let me go watch my dance show, 'cause they already love dance, are sitting at home thinking they're going to watch a late-night show. And next thing you know, they're watching a full-blown production -- and now, the average person that would never have seen musical theater got a taste of it."

The Late Late Show with James Corden airs weeknights on CBS at 12:37am PT.

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