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A CurtainUp Review
American Dance Machine for the 21st Century
By Elyse Sommer
This worthy annual reconstruction of iconic theater dance pieces to honor their choreographers' techniques is a start-to-finish eye and ear pleasing entertainment. A terrific unseen 10-piece band supports the visible and triple-talented cast that makes the most of the wonderful material they're recreating (they dance superbly an are also fine actors and singers) Director Wayne Cliento, his design team and a group of "stagers" representing choreography's royalty have made it all a cohesive piece that effectively feels like Broadway but fits the Joyce's smaller than Broadway sized stage.
It's a treat From the opening medley that samples the stage and TV work of choreographer Jack Cole (known as the "Father of Theatrical Jazz Dance") to the entire cast's joining Tyler Hanes spectacular Chorus Line audition number. It's no easy task to give a sense of unity to such a variety of shows and styles, but director Cilento cleverly takes advantage of Edward Pierce's unfussy sets and easily blended color scheme of David C. Woolard's costumes to fluidly move from scene to scene.
No small measure of the production's success in bringing all these pieces together outside the context of their source shows and within the context of a historic anthology is attributable to Batwin + Robin's projection and video designs. Besides each scene's introductory title and background text projected on the scrim that separates the performers from the band, there are some wonderful scene setting backdrops— for example, the segment from Grand Hotel (one of the shows this production made me wish someone would revive). The projected backdrop for Agnes de Mille's unforgettable "Dream Ballet" from Oklahoma (which I've seen often enough to happily settle for what's gorgeously replayed here) is atmospherically lit with David Grill's lighting.
The easy exits and entrances include clever touches like an exiting performer hands a hat just used to a performer using it again in the next segment. The order in which the shows are arranged further abets the overall fluidity, as is the case with two more highlights: the Golden Boy's fight scene which moves forward to the warring gangs of West Side Story. That riveting Golden Boy fight scene demands another bravo to the band as well as sound designer Matt Kraus.
with so many styles beautifully executed by ADM21ers, it's hard to single out any one of these interpreters of astounding ballet leaps, characterizing gestures, jazzy high kicks and synchronized ensemble movements. Suffices to say that under Cilento's direction, this team not only taps into the original context but somehow give even the best known, like the Oklahoma and West Side Story numbers, a newly minted flavor. For me, the single numbers from often seen shows somehow brought the entire show reeling through my mind's eye; and rekindled my memories of less familiar or liked shows like Bubbling Brown Sugar and The Who's Tommy.
It doesn't really matter if you've seen any of these shows before. The sum of these gorgeously performed and smartly staged parts adds up to a wonderful two hours. Try to catch it before it ends just three days into the new year.