Shelton business stars in reality television show: 'The most amazing experience’

Debbie Donovan didn’t really think much of it when she filled out a form to possibly be on a reality television show. It was from a casting director asking if she would like her school, That’s Showbiz! in Shelton, to be on a yet-to-be-mentioned show.

The questions were about frustrations in her life and business. She just used it as a therapy tool.

Little did she expect a call the next day for a follow-up. After nearly four months and almost 200 interviews and background checks later, the school was set to be on a new Lifetime reality show.

And so ShowBiz Dance-Theatre School of 61 Bridgeport Ave. is featured in a new show to air on Lifetime this June.

Abby Lee Miller — the star of the reality show "Dance Moms" — spent two weeks with Donovan, students and their parents to shoot the new Abby’s Studio Rescue.

Studio makeover, fresh starts

Donovan said Miller’s show helped give the space a needed makeover and a fresh new look. Miller also tried to help with issues with the landlord of the building that ShowBiz has occupied for the last eight years.

The Lifetime show takes competitive dance studios that may be having trouble with finances, landlords or other issues and tries to help them get a fresh start.

Donovan could not go into specifics about the filming or what might be shown on the program — tentatively set to air June 24 — but she said it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“It was the most amazing experience,” she said. “There were many cameras and many people.”

Commercials for the show recently started to air on the television network.

Business opened in 1996

Showbiz opened in 1996 and has moved from Stratford to Shelton. Donovan, a native of Monroe who currently lives in Stratford, has been dancing her whole life.

“We want to be big, we want to be huge,” Donovan said of her studio. “We want to be the place you go to dance.”

At That’s Showbiz, students learn to sing, dance and act.


“The kids you are watching are very strong dancers,” Donovan said of who would be on the television show.

Parents and their children who appear on the show include Shelton residents Deanna Toohey and her daughter Alexa, 12, as well as Kathy West-Bronson and her son Will, 11.

Other participants are Deanna Grant (Donovan’s sister) and her daughter Mea, 9, of Stratford; Jennifer Falotico and her daughter Ali, 8, of Stratford; Kathleen DeBrum and her daughter Julianna, 8, of Trumbull; and Jim Nassef, theater instructor from Fairfield.

“We’re growing and getting bigger, thanks to Abby,” said Donovan.

‘Taking charge’

When it came time to film the show, Donovan had no idea that Abby Lee Miller would be coming to her Shelton studio to help her with her business. Let alone that Miller had any part in it.

“I never knew what the show was called,” Donovan said.

Filming was happening one day. The class knew there were cameras around. However, there was a little twist. Miller was hiding in the side office and came out to surprise Donovan.

“She just came in and stood there,” Donovan said.

Lifetime of theater experience

Miller has had a lifetime of experience in the theater. She grew up around dancers, as her mother taught them.

However, she never had much of a dancer’s body or coordination, Donovan said. If anyone has seen pictures of Miller, she stands about 5-foot, 10-inches tall and weighs more than 300 pounds.

Regardless, Donovan said, Miller knows her stuff and has trained the best. Coming from her own struggling dance studio to becoming a reality television star, Miller recently came out of bankruptcy.

Miller understands what local schools go through, Donovan said.

“She’s made me tough,” said Donovan. “I’m definitely taking charge of my business.”

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