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Half Time Gets to Center Court

Half Time Gets to Center Court

Half Time, the Broadway-bound musical that opened at Paper Mill last night, is reminiscent of A Chorus Linefor seniors, Bring It On and Ballroom.Based on Dori Berinstein’s 2008 documentary, “Gotta Dance,” we learn about the NBA’s first senior hip-hop dance team, who really had no professional dance training, but went on to win the hearts of their fans. This show with a message misses some key moments, though it has the potential for a Broadway hit. In a strange way, Half Time doesn’t really kick in until the midway point. That is because we never really get to know these nine geriatric wannabe performers until after they have already made the team. The show is missing the “Gee I hope I get it” beginning. We need to be invested in these people, who may be of a certain age but have not given up on life, and it needs to start at the audition.

Georgia Engel, Andre De Shields

Georgia Engel, Andre De Shields Photo by Jerry Dalia

Directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell (Kinky Boots) with spirit, and co-choreography by Nick Kenkel, with a book by Chad Beguelin and Bob Martin, score by Nell Benjamin (lyrics) and Matthew Skylar (music), with additional music by the late Marvin Hamlisch and Ester Dean, this underdog show will leave a smile on your face by the end.

Nancy Ticotin, Donna McKechnie, and Lillias White

Nancy Ticotin, Donna McKechnie and Lillias White Photo by Jerry Dalia

This talented troupe of television and stage veterans has been nicknamed “Nifty Shades of Grey,” with a running gag of “It sounds like a bunch of seniors dressed in leather, spanking each other.” We find out that the marketing director (Kimberlee Garris) for the “New Jersey Cougars” – the regular dance team – has decided seniors would be a good PR angle. Meet Dorothy/Dottie (“Mary Tyler Moore Show” vet, the surprisingly good Georgia Engel), a kindergarten teacher by day, but by night has a taste for rap. Ron (The Wiz‘s smooth Andre De Shields), “The Prince of Swing”, is a reclusive widower who wants to take his grandson to Sea World but needs to prove himself to his uncaring daughter in law. Bea (the soulful Lillias White, The Life) wants her granddaughter, Kendra (Nkeki Obi-Melekwe), a current dance squad member, to honor herself and stop running around with her married basketball boyfriend. Joanne (A Chorus Line‘sgraceful Donna McKechnie) gave up her one-show Broadway career for her doctor husband and now that he has left her for a younger woman, she wants her moment in the sun returned, no matter the cost. Camilla (the seriously fabulous Nancy Ticotin, “Orange is the New Black”) is a salsa dancer with a boyfriend half her age, who is not a fan of being “age appropriate.” Her samba/salsa infused “Como No” dance solo is the stand out of the night. Then there is Mae (the perky Lori Tan Chinn, “Orange is the New Black”), whose dancing is not so much on point, but brings joy and heart to the show as she deals with her husband’s Alzheimers in the wonderful “The Waters Rise.”

Nancy Ticoti

Nancy Ticoti Photo by Jerry Dalia

The remaining team members are Fran (Lenora Nemetz), a Mary Kay saleswoman hoping to expand her business; Muriel (Kay Walbye) who is insecure about losing her senses, so she’d rather be blind than wear her glasses; and Estelle (Madeleine Doherty) who is the least fleshed out of the crew.

Garrett Turner, Georgia Engel, Alexander Aguilar, Lori Tan Chinn

Garrett Turner, Georgia Engel, Alexander Aguilar, Lori Tan Chinn Photo by Jerry Dalia

After three weeks of intensive training these seniors aren’t making the grade and now the PR team wants to make a joke out of them. Not having it is Tara (the wonderful Haven Burton), their coach, who at just 27, has also been aged out of being a cheerleader. She has been reduced to coaching or face unemployment.

Donna McKechnie

Donna McKechnie Photo by Jerry Dalia

Five-time Tony Award-nominee, David Rockwell provides the scenic design. Costumes are from Tony Award-winner, Gregg Barnes. Jason Lee Courson’s background projection design impressed, and Tony Award-winner Kenneth Posner delivers a show- stopping lighting design.

Madeleine Doherty, Nkeki Obi-Melekwe, Lenora Nemetz

Summerisa Bell Stevens, Madeleine Doherty, Nkeki Obi-Melekwe, Lenora Nemetz Photo by Jerry Dalia

Loosely based on the lives and journey of the real team, this show fictionalizes many details. Like the hard-working old-timers, this show has been around for at least 10 years, with its last incarnation in 2015 billed in Chicago as Gotta Dance.

Sydni Beaudoin, Lori Tan Chinn, Garrett Turner

Sydni Beaudoin, Lori Tan Chinn, Garrett Turner Photo by Jerry Dalia

Getting old, putting a stop to ageism, loss of respect, and not giving up are things that happen to most of us and is a message we all need to hear.

Half Time

The seniors Photo by Jerry Dalia

Half Time: Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ until July 1 papermill.org/show/half-time

Out of Town

Suzanna, co-owns and publishes the newspaper Times Square Chronicles or T2C. At one point a working actress, she has performed in numerous productions in film, TV, cabaret and theatre. She has performed at The New Orleans Jazz festival, The United Nations and Carnegie Hall. Currently she has a screenplay in the works, which she developed with her mentor and friend the late Arthur Herzog. She was the Broadway Informer on the all access cable TV Show “The New Yorkers,” soon to be “The Tourist Channel.” email: suzanna@t2conline.com

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