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A CurtainUp Review

Never Gonna Dance




We should be like a couple of hot tomatoes
But you're as cold as yesterday's mashed potatoes

---from "A Fine Romance."
Noah Racey as Lucky Garnett and Nancy Lemenager as Penny Carroll
Noah Racey as Lucky Garnett and Nancy Lemenager as Penny Carroll
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Never Gonna Dance takes no chances on audiences not understanding any allusions to Major Bowes, host of an amateur show that was something of a household word in the 1930s. Jeffrey Hatcher's book for the 2003 Broadway musical version of the 1936 Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire hit, Swing Time, has added a dance contest for the show's Penny and Lucky to enter (Nancy Lemenager and Noah Racey) overseen by a Major Bowes character ( Ron Ohrbach). But while the contest also introduces a competing couple called Velma and Spud (Deidre Goodwin and Eugene Fleming), this add-on is at the heart of why Never Gonna Dance is a fun but flawed entertainment, while Wonderful Town, in which Bowes is one rather dated reference, is practically flawless. Nancy Lemenager and Noah Racey are outstanding dancers and several of their numbers are transcendingly lovely, but most of Never Gonna Dance's sizzle and sparks come from Goodwin and Fleming and other of the show's second bananas.

It goes without saying that recreating the persona of two movie icons is an awesome challenge. Racey's dancing is full of grace and energy and would hardly make Astaire shiver and shudder in his grave. While he's not much of a singer and is good looking enough but not matinee idol handsome, the same was true of Astaire. But Astaire's rather reedy voice and unprepossessing looks were overshadowed by an indefinable, one-of-a-kind savoir faire. Nancy Lemenager comes to the show an accomplished dancer, while Ginger Rogers who was more actress than singer or dancer, had to take dancing lessons when she first partnered with Astaire (According to Joanne Woodward narrating Fred Astaire: Putting On His Top Hat, a PBS 1980 special) the memorable "Never Gonna Dance" sequence went through forty-eight takes and left Rogers' feet actually bleeding through her shoes). But Ginger, like Astaire, had an indefinable star quality or oomph whereas Lemenager 's Penny seems more like an understudy filling in for an absent star.

With Jerome Kern's indestructibly beautiful songs, Jerry Mitchell's terrific choreography, the period embodied with pizazz by Robin Wagner's multitude of sets (the Grand Central Terminal set adds immensely to the marvelous "I Won’t Dance" tap dance) and William Ivey Long's costumes, it's not surprising that each Never Gonna Dance number is punctuated with enthusiastic applause. This Penny and Lucky may not be ideal but they do have scenes when they truly enchant, as in the rooftop rendition of "The Way You Look Tonight." And even some of the wrong-headed choices for rendering the gorgeous melodies can't undo their never aging charms. It's a credit to Michael Greif's direction and Robert Billig music direction that Kern's music has not been given the crass amplification common to circa 2003 musicals; consequent, Never Gonna Dance never falls harshly on the ears.

The introduction of the Spud and Velma team compensates for the omission of the film's "Bojangles of Harlem", the tribute to tap legend Bill Robinson (probably for politically correct reasons). Since Karen Ziemba is a fine actress and singer besides being a divine dancer (as last proved by her part in the last dansical Contact) her role as Penny's sidekick Mabel is one of the show's major pleasures though it's too bad she gets only one chance at a song and dance solo, "Shimmy With Me. "

Peter Gerety handles his singing deficiencies with enough comic playfulness to make his Alfred J. Morganthal a worthy answer to Mabel's heretofore unrealized romantic dreams. Peter Bartlett, the head of the dance school where Penny and Mabel work, is another add-on character hatched by Hatcher. As always he is the epitome of swishyness so it's fun to see him broaden his resume with a bit of dancing.

Though you can see the real Fred and Ginger courtesy of your local video store (a new DVD of Swing Time is due shortly), there's nothing like live dancing. For a live and lively dance show, you could do a lot worse than Never Gonna Dance.

Never Gonna Dance
Music by Jerome Kern
Book by Jeffrey Hatcher
based on the RKO motion picture Swing Time& a story by Erwin Gelsey
Directed by Michael Greif
Choreographed by Jerry Mitchell.
Cast: Noah Racey (Lucky Garnett), Nancy Lemenager (Penny Carroll), Philip LeStrange (Mr. Chalfont), Deborah Leamy (Margaret Chalfont), Karen Ziemba (Mabel Pritt), Peter Gerety (Alfred J. Morganthal), Peter Bartlett (Mr. Pangborn), Ron Orbach (Major Bowes), David Pittu (Ricardo Romero), Eugene Fleming (Spud) and Deidre Goodwin (Velma).
Ensemble: Timothy J. Alex, Julio Augustin, RoxaneBarlow, Julie Connors, Sally Mae Dunn, Jennifer Frankel, Jason Gillman, Greg Graham, Ipsita Paul, T. Oliver Reid, Kirby Ward, and Tommar Wilson.
Set Design: Robin Wagner
Costume Design: William Ivey Long
Lighting Design: Paul Gallo
Sound Design: Acme Sound Partners
Hair Design: Paul Huntley
Orchestrations: Harold Wheeler
Music direction & Vocal arrangements: Robert Billig
Dance music arrangements: Zane Mark
Music coordinator: John Miller
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes including one 15 minute intermission
Broadhurst Theatre, 235 West 44th Street 212/239-6200
From 10/27/03; opening 12/04/03.
Mon through Sat @ 8:00PM, Wed & Sat @ 2:00PM, 1/6/ to 3/28 - Tues through Sat @ 8:00PM, Wed & Sat @ 2:00PM, Sun @ 2:00PM $101.25, $81.25, Wed Mat - $91.25, $71.25
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on December 9th performance
Musical Numbers
(Names in parenthethes represent various lyricists)
Act One
  • Dearly Beloved(Mercer)/ Lucky & his Charms
  • Put Me To The Test (Gershwin) /Lucky
  • I Won't Dance (Hammerstein, Fields, McHugh, Harbach/ Lucky & Company
  • Pick Yourself Up (Fields)/ Penny & Lucky
  • Pick Yourself Up (Reprise)/ Mabel & Morganthal
  • Who? (Hammerstein, Harbach)/ Ricardo Romero, Rome Tones
  • I'm Old Fashioned (Mercer)/ Penny
  • She Didn't Say Yes, She Didn't Say No (Harbach) /Spud & Velma
  • The Song Is You (Hammerstein)/ Mabel, Morganthal, Waitresses
  • The Way You Look Tonight (Fields)/ Lucky & Penny
Act Two
  • Waltz in Swing Time (Fields)/ The Company
  • Shimmy With Me (Wodehouse)/ Mabel & Company
  • A Fine Romance (Fields)/ Penny, Lucky, Mabel, Morganthal
  • I'll Be Hard to Handle (Dougall)/ Spud & Velma
  • I Got Love (Fields)/ Mabel
  • The Most Exciting Night (Fields, Harbach)/ Ricardo Romero, Rome Tones
  • Remind Me (Fields)/ Penny & Lucky
  • Never Gonna Dance (Fields)/ Lucky & Penny
  • Dearly Beloved -- I Won't Dance(Reprise)/ The Company

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6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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