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Old Vic Streams an Inventive Little Shop for its Jekyll & Hyde Dance

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I had no idea what to expect when I tuned into The Old Vic‘s streaming of the fascinatingly athletic dance adaptation of Jekyll and Hyde by Drew McOnie (Broadway’s King Kong). It’s not your traditional telling, almost from the get go. It feels like we are being transported to a slightly upmarket Skid Row floral shoppe, fully expecting Little Shop of Horrors‘ Seymour and Audrey to come through the doors, and in many ways in makes a whole lot of sense how that beautifully fun Off-Broadway musical fits the same gothic novellapot. But instead of Seymour finding his power alongside a flesh-hungry plant, the young nervous dreamer at the core of this version of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, danced most dynamically by the very appealing Daniel Collins, finds his revitalizing power hidden most Freudian-ly inside of himself through the ingestion of a liquid plant formula created to revitalize his sickly dying plants.

McOnie’s Company finds clever restructured the dynamics within Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale, rooted in sexual lust and insecurity.  Set in the clever mode of a big colorful MGM musical circa London in the 1950s, Jekyll, a timid but romantic struggling florist sets his dreamy eyes on the beautifully Dehlia, danced by the stunning Rachel Muldoon, but discovers he has no strong game against the more dominate and aggressive rival he encounters one strange wild night out on the town. You can’t help but be on Jekyll’s side, hoping he finds the inner strength to stand up to this cool handsome stud/jerk, but we know he’s going to need some help, but who knew it was going to turn out like this.

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Jekyll swallows a potion flavored with is own blood, transforming him, in a brilliantly electric shower sequence, into the powerful and uber-confident Hyde, dynamically embodied by the impressive Tim Hodges.  In this more muscular confident form, he struts in and takes what he wants, fighting and overpowering all that stand in his way. His passion for domination and fornication has no bounds, and even as the piece falters through some spectacularly stereotypical innocent vs. not so innocent scenarios, the drama, backed by solid rock guitar and tense violence, delivers the tale of Jekyll and Hyde with novelty and force, with some quick silly touches of romance and fun.

The dance sequences pulse the piece forward muscularly, passionately, and quaintly from floral shop to nightclub to bedroom, depending on the rhythm and rhyme of the moment. The talented crew of dancers spin dramatic circles around the magnificently detailed set by Soutra Gilmour that gives mood and style to the event. Even within the goofy comic moments and overwrought dynamics, Grant Olding’s magnificently diverse score sprouts so much growth to lean into, especially during its wild swings of style and sound. The floral musical and physical aromas are compelling and dynamic to take in, and the energy infectious.  The dancers find grace, power, and narrative meaning in every interaction, never losing sight of the plot and the device within.

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It’s an impressive spectacle, this Little Shop of Jekyll and Hyde, a dance performance piece that doesn’t usually engage this theatre junkie so completely (I kept waiting for them to break out in a song…), but the skilled and passionate delivery finds charm, edge, and darkness within. The sexual flower competition ridiculousness luckily flies by fast, although the sexual stereotypes for the women and the glamorizing of sexual violence linger a bit too long on a psyche. The overall effect, though, blossoms outward, revealing the clever darkness that resides somewhere deep within the human psyche of this Jekyll and Hyde flowering far beyond the predictable with the exciting and chilling finale. I’ll take a dozen.

Tim-Hodges-Mr-Hyde-Jekyll-Hyde-at-The-Old-Vic.-Photo-by-Manuel-Harlan

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Dance

New York City Center Announces Their 2024 – 2025 Season

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New York City Center ‘s programing is a series of dance, musical theater, and community events that will have everyone and their friends coming back to see it all.

FALL 2024

New York City Center’s 2024 – 2025 Season opens with the Fall for Dance Festival from September 18 through 29. An essential part of New York’s fall dance season, this annual showcase features an eclectic array of international dance artists and companies in five unique programs. In keeping with City Center’s mission of accessibility, all tickets for Fall for Dance remain at $20 (plus $10 in fees). Highlights on the 2024 line-up include Boston Ballet, Italy’s CCN/Aterballetto (FFD debut), Dutch National Ballet,Chicago’s M.A.D.D. Rhythms, New York-based collective Roderick George | kNoname Artist, and New York City Ballet principal dancer Sara Mearns.

On October 30, the Annual Gala Presentation Ragtime opens with a benefit performance followed by a gala dinner at the Ziegfeld Ballroom. Led by Tony-nominee and Encores! Artistic Director Lear deBessonet with Music Director James Moore, Ragtime follows three fictional families in pursuit of the American Dream: Black pianist Coalhouse Walker Jr. (Joshua Henry) and his sweetheart Sarah; Latvian immigrant Tateh (Brandon Uranowitz) along with his Little Girl; and a wealthy white family led by Mother (Caissie Levy). This sweeping, powerful musical adaptation of E.L. Doctorow’s novel of the same name with music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and a book by Terrence McNally won four Tony Awards in 1998. Presented in a special two-week run through November 10, funds raised by all 14 performances allow City Center to continue to expand access to the performing arts by subsidizing education programs and affordable tickets throughout the year.

Award-winning tap dance artist Michelle Dorrance returns to City Center with her Company in a joyful program featuring live music from November 22 through 24. Hailed for their ingenuity and expanding the boundaries of tap dance while also honoring its roots, Dorrance Dance has been a Fall for Dance favorite since 2013.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, New York City Center’s Principal Dance Company and a beloved cultural ambassador, returns December 4 – January 5 for a five-week holiday season celebrating a lineage and legacy that continues to open doors and break new ground. Ailey’s extraordinary dancers will bring to life world premieres and new productions by a number of choreographers for whom Alvin Aileypaved the way, including the 25th anniversary return of Ronald K. Brown’s blockbuster Grace, a rapturous work in which the secular and sacred meet, connecting African and American dance.

Winter | Spring 2025

Led by Music Director Mary-Mitchell Campbell, Artistic Director Lear deBessonet, and Creative Producing Director Clint Ramos, the Tony-honored Encores! series returns in 2025 with a season of musical theater revivals to captivate both seasoned enthusiasts and newcomers alike. The series opens with Urinetown from February 5 through 16. Directed by Teddy Bergman with Encores! Music Director Mary-Mitchell Campbell, this side-splitting satire takes place in a dystopian city on the brink of dehydration where all citizens must pay a fee for “The Privilege to Pee” at one of the public facilities controlled by a selfish tycoon. With an incisive and clever score by Tony winner Mark Hollmann, fourth-wall-breaking humor by Hollman and Tony winner Greg Kotis, and a plot of thrilling twists and turns, Urinetown examines the darkest dilemmas of humanity—skewering everything from capitalism to environmental activism with irreverent charm and razor-sharp wit.

The long-awaited Love Life takes the City Center stage March 26 through 30. Originally scheduled as part of the 2019 – 2020 season, the performances were cancelled at the start of the Covid-19 shutdown. The only collaboration between Kurt Weill and Alan Jay Lerner, this rarely staged 1948 musical depicts a love story that takes place over 200 years of American history, seen through the eyes of a family who never ages. Directed by Tony winner Victoria Clark with Guest Music Director Rob Berman, the musicalexplores the epic and intimate aspects of a marriage through a juxtaposition of heartfelt scenes and satirical vaudeville acts. Considered by some to be the first concept musical, Love Life is an inspiration for musical theater favorites such as Cabaret, Chicago, and Company.

Closing out the 2025 Encores! series from April 30 through May 11 is The Wild Party. With music and lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa and book by LaChiusa and George C. Wolfe, The Wild Party brings Joseph Moncure March’s notorious poem to life in this vivid musical adaptation. What happens when a night of debauchery leads to a morning of sobering truths? Directed by Saheem Ali with Encores! Music Director Mary-Mitchell Campbell, this “dangerous, seedy, fantastic” (The Observer) gin-soaked party is full of jazz-age indulgence and Vaudeville stars letting loose off-the-clock.

Spring 2025 Dance

For more than 20 years, Flamenco Festival has brought Spain’s greatest flamenco dancers and musicians to City Center. This “beloved, yearly spectacle” (Time Out) returns from March 6 through 9 with a line-up that includes the “visionary, magisterial dancer” (The Guardian) Eva Yerbabuena, and more to be announced.

The legendary Twyla Tharp also returns from March 12 through 16 celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of Twyla Tharp Dance with a program of two New York premieres. Set to Beethoven’s masterpiece of the same name, the Olivier-nominated Diabelli Variations makes visible the elegant humor and depth of the composer’s layered genius as Tharp’s movement effortlessly shifts from ballet to jazz, to modern, and even unexpected bits of social dance, accompanied by live piano. Combined with a new work set to a reimagining of Philip Glass’s iconic Aguas da Amazonia, arranged and performed live on a collection of custom-designed instruments by Third Coast Percussion, these two premiere works guarantee an evening of stellar dancing and phenomenal musicianship.

Celebrated New York City Ballet principal dancer Sara Mearns has a long artistic relationship with City Center including eight performances in the Fall for Dance Festival, starring in Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes, and making her musical theater debut in Encores! I Married an Angel as part of the 75th Anniversary Season (2018 – 2019). This season, Mearns makes her curatorial debut as part of the ongoing Artists at the Center series. From April 3 through 5, Mearns expands the boundaries of the balletic form as both a dancer and curator in this annual series.

Bringing their bold vision for the world of classical ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem returns April 10 through 13 with an exciting season of new works and fan favorites. And from May 29 through June 1, the nation’s largest Latinx cultural organization Ballet Hispánico returns with a gala performance, their signature En Familia/Family Matinee, and CARMEN.maquia. Choreographed by Gustavo Ramírez Sansano, CARMEN.maquia is a bold and electrifying reimagining of Bizet’s timeless tale with costumes by fashion designer David DelfÍn and set designed by Luis Crespo.

Studio 5

The Studio 5 series of conversations and performances offer an opportunity to hear from today’s great dance artists in the intimate setting of City Center’s historic studios, moderated by leading scholars and writers in the dance world. Events include 80 Years of Fancy Free (Nov 25), George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker® (Dec 9), Celebrating Black History Month | Street Dance Edition (Feb 24) with Ephrat Asherie and Adesola Osakalumi, and Sara Mearns | Artist at the Center (Mar 17). Select Studio 5 programs will again be offered as on-demand, live-streamed events this season.

Education & Community Engagement

City Center’s Education & Community Engagement expanding programs provide pathways to and through the arts for thousands of students and New Yorkers across the city with workshops, residencies, performances, apprenticeships, and high school externships. The Lynne & Richard Pasculano Student Matinees provide access to over 10,000 students, offering subsidized tickets to performances. Student matinees can be combined with In-School Workshops or Residencies that enrich students’ learning experience, helping them to prepare and reflect on the performance. Student Matinees for the 2024 – 2025 Season include Ragtime on November 7 (Grades 6 – 12), Dorrance Dance on November 22 (Grades 3 – 12), Ailey II on December 10 and 12 (Grades 3 – 12), Encores! Urinetown on February 13 (Grades 6 – 12), and Ballet Hispánico on May 3 (Grades 3 – 12). For more information on attending a Lynne & Richard Pasculano Student Matinee, email Education@NYCityCenter.org or call 212.763.1221.

City Center Community Nights build common bonds around the power of performance. In a new format for the 2024 – 2025 season, these events will be held post-performance with concessions remaining open, inviting even more audience members to take part. Community Nights include Ragtime on Friday November 8; Encores! Urinetown on Friday, February 14; Flamenco Festival on Friday, March 7; and Encores! The Wild Party on Friday, May 9. Performances with ASL Interpretation will be held Thursday, November 7 (Ragtime); Thursday, February 13 (Encores! Urinetown); Sunday, March 30 at 2pm (Encores! Love Life); and Thursday, May 8 at 7:30pm (Encores! The Wild Party). And Dorrance Danceincludes Family Friendly Matinees on Saturday, November 23 at 2pm, and Sunday, November 24 at 2pm.

Tickets for the Annual Gala Presentation Ragtime go on sale at noon on May 16 to members and May 23 to the general public. Dorrance Dance and the Winter/Spring dance season go on sale to members on August 20 and to the general public on August 22. Fall for Dance Festival tickets are on sale Sunday, August 25 at 11am, with all tickets remaining at $20 (plus $10 in fees).  Tickets for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater go on sale September 10 to the general public.

Current subscribers may renew their Encores! subscriptions now through June 28. New Encores! subscriptions for members are available starting August 6 and for the general public starting August 20. Subscriptions may be purchased for the first week of two-week engagements. Encores! single tickets go on sale to members October 1 and to the general public on October 8.

Tickets can be purchased online at NYCityCenter.org, by calling 212.581.1212, or in person at the City Center Box Office. Access City Center Club is available to those 38 years of age and under and offers a limited number of $28 tickets (fees included) to City Center productions. For more information and to sign up, visit NYCityCenter.org/Access. New York City Center is located at 131 W 55th St between Sixth and Seventh avenues.

Casting and programming subject to change.

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Broadway

Chita Rivera Awards Part 2 The Interviews

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T2C was at the 2024 Chita Rivera Awards at NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. We got to interview some of the best in dance and look forward to sharing this with you.

On this video watch Michael-Demby Cain, Joe Lanteri, Bernadette Peters, Debbie Allen, Justin Peck, Norm Lewis, Rick and Jeff Kuperman, Chita’s daughter Lisa Mordente, Kenny Ortega, Serge Trujillo,  winners for Water For Elephants Jesse Robb and Shana Carroll, winner Camille A Brown Hell’s Kitchen, Marina Tamayo, Lorin Latarro, David Petersen, Bruce Robert Harris, Ali Louis Bourzgui, Huey Lewis, Phil LaDuca, Riki Kane Larimer, Grant Plotkin and highlights from the show with Ali Louis Bourgzgui, Kristin ZChenoweth, Norm Lewis, Wayne Brady and more.

This was one spectacular night.

Video by Magda Katz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dance

Chita Rivera Awards Part 1 In Pictures

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The wnners for the 2024 Chita Rivera Awards were announced yesterday evening. Presented at NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts (566 LaGuardia Place off Washington Square Park), the Chita Rivera Awards are produced by Joe Lanteri, Founder and Executive Director of the New York City Dance Alliance Foundation Inc., in conjunction with Patricia Watt.

Joe Lanteri

Michael-Demby Cain

Joe Lanteri and Michael-Demby Cain

The Rockettes

The mission of the Chita Rivera Awards is to celebrate dance and choreographic excellence, preserve notable dance history, recognize past, present, and future talents, while promoting high standards in dance education and investing in the next generation.

Bernadette Peters

Bebe Neuwirth and Bernadette Peters

Bebe Neuwirth and Bernadette Peters with Joe Lantern

At this year’s Chita Rivera Awards, Bernadette Peters received the Lifetime Achievement Award

Mayte Natalio

and Mayte Natalio (Suffs) received the Douglas and Ethel Watt Critics’ Choice Award.

Phil LaDuca

Phil LaDuca was also awarded.

Presenters and performers at this year’s Awards included

Corbin Bleu, Debbie Allen

Bebe Neuwirth, Debbie Allen and Norm Nixon

Debbie Allen and Norm Nixon

Debbie Allen

Corbin Bleu and Sasha Clements

Corbin Bleu and Sasha Clements

Corbin Bleu (White Christmas)

Wayne Brady (The Wiz)

Ali Louis Bourzgui

Ali Louis Bourzgui (Tommy)

Kristin Chenoweth

Kristin Chenoweth (Wicked)

Anthony Crivello

Anthony Crivello (Kiss of the Spider Woman)

Lorin Latarro and Huey Lewis

Huey Lewis (The Heart of Rock and Roll)

Norm Lewis

Norm Lewis (Phantom of the Opera; Porgy and Bess)

Joe Morton

Joe Morton (Scandal, ART)

Bebe Neuwirth

Bebe Neuwirth (Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club, Chicago)

Chita’s daughter Lisa Mordente and Kenny Ortega

Kenny Ortega (High School Musical)

David Hyde Pierce (Here We Are, Spamalot)

Lea Salonga

Lea Salonga (Miss Saigon, Old Friends)

Chloe Davis and Brooke Shields

Brooke Shields

Brooke Shields (Suddenly Susan; The Adams Family)

Ben Vereen (Pippin)

Lorna Luft, Riki Kane Larimer and Grant Plotkin

Lorna Luft, Riki Kane Larimer

Riki Kane Larimer producer and one of the major sponsors of The Chita Awards.

Jack Noseworthy and Sergio Trujillo

Stephanie Pope and Lloyd Culbreath

Marina Tamayo

Bruce Robert Harris

Lorna Luft

Avery Wilson and Phillip Johnson

Tommy Bracco

Tommy Bracco and Ross Lekites

Michael Garnier and Amy Hall Garnier

Leo Moctezuma

Lainie Sakakura and Isa Sanchez

OUTSTANDING CHOREOGRAPHY IN A BROADWAY SHOW

Bebe Neuwirth, Camille A Brown

Bebe Neuwirth

***Camille A Brown, Hell’s Kitchen (tie)

Julia Cheng

Julia Cheng, Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club

Rick and Jeff Kuperman

Rick and Jeff Kuperman and Tilly Evans-Krueger

Rick and Jeff Kuperman, The Outsiders

Lorin Latarro

Lorin Latarro, The Heart of Rock and Roll / The Who’s Tommy (joint nomination)

Justin Peck

Justin Peck, Illinoise

Jesse Robb and Shana Carroll

***Jesse Robb and Shana Carroll, Water for Elephants (tie)

OUTSTANDING DANCER IN A BROADWAY SHOW

***Antoine Boissereau, Water for Elephants

Ben Cook, Illinoise

Chloe Davis

Chloe Davis, Hell’s Kitchen

Gaby Diaz, Illinoise

Tilly Evans-Krueger

***Tilly Evans-Krueger, The Outsiders

Rachel Lockhart, Illinoise

Phillip Johnson Richardson, The Wiz

Byron Tittle, Illinoise

Ricky Ubeda, Illinoise

Avery Wilson, The Wiz

OUTSTANDING ENSEMBLE IN A BROADWAY SHOW

The Cast of Cabaret that includes- Kayla Jenerson, Corinne Munsch, MiMi Scardulla, Pedro Garzo, Julia Cheng, Rebecca Frecknall, Loren Lester, Hannah Florence, Colin Cunliffe, David Merino, Spencer James Weidie, Sun Kim, Deja McNair, Karl Skyler Urban

Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club

The Cast of Hells kitchen-
Nyseli Vega, Jackie Leon, Raechelle Manalo, Sarah Parker, Susan Oliveras, Michael Greif, Onyxx Noel, Niki Saludez, Timothy L. Edwards

Hell’s Kitchen

***Illinoise

The Heart of Rock and Roll

From The Cast of The Outsiders-Melody Rose, Sarah Grace Mariani, Tilly Evans-Krueger, Kristen Carcone, Henry Julian Gendron, Milena J. Comeau, Rick Kuperman, Barton Cowperthwaite, Victor Carrillo Tracey, Jordan Chin, RJ Higton, Sean Harrison Jones, Kevin Csolak, Jeff Kuperman

The Outsiders

Water for Elephants

FILM & DOCUMENTARY

 

OUTSTANDING CHOREOGRAPHY IN A THEATRICAL RELEASE

***Barbie, Choreographer: Jennifer White

Carmen, Choreographer: Benjamin Millepied / Marina Tamayo

Color Purple, Choreographer: Fatima Robinson

Mean Girls, Choreographer: Kyle Hanagami

Wonka, Choreographer: Christopher Gattelli

OUTSTANDING DIRECTION OF A DANCE DOCUMENTARY

Daughters, Directors: Angela Patton / Natalie Rae

Eldorado: Everything the Nazis Hate, Directors: Benjamin Cantu / Matt Lambert

Diane Byer and David Petersen

***Lift, Director: David Petersen

Marc Saltarelli

Studio One Forever, Director: Marc Saltarelli

Swan Song, Director: Chelsea McMullan

2023-2024 CHITA RIVERA AWARD NOMINATING COMMITTEES

Awarding Committee

Chair: Sylviane Gold, Gary Chryst, Robert LaFosse, Wendy Perron, and Lee Roy Reams

Broadway Nominating Committee

Chair: Wendy Federman, Caitlin Carter, Gary Chryst, Don Correia

Jamie deRoy and Rachel Stange

Jamie deRoy, Sandy Duncan, Peter Filichia, Dr. Louis Galli, Sylviane Gold, Jonathan Herzog, Robert La Fosse, Joe Lanteri, Michael Milton, Mary Beth O’Connor, Wendy Perron, Lee Roy Reams, Andy Sandberg, and Randy Skinner

Film Nominating Committee

Chair: Jonathan C. Herzog, Steven Caras, Wilhelmina Frankfurt, Mary Beth O’Connor, and Andy Sandberg

All proceeds of the Chita Rivera Awards benefit the NYC Dance Alliance Foundation Scholarship Program. The NYCDA Foundation is an IRS approved 501(c)(3) committed to broadening performing arts awareness while advocating education and high standards of excellence in dance.

This year, all funding and proceeds will support the creation of a new Chita Rivera Training Scholarship.

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Broadway

Broadway’s “Illinoise” Dances and Sings, Igniting a Fire of Storytellers, Both Dynamic and Distant.

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I never know how to start things,” reads the graphic journal that is stuffed inside the program of Broadway’s last-minute entry into the Tony Awards race, Illinoise. This dance show musical is meticulously based on Sufjan Stevens’2005 indie folk concept album “Illinois,” an album I must admit I never heard of until it opened earlier this year at Park Avenue Armory. The show is overflowing with talent, much like the journal, which is a captivating written celebration of the thought process behind this 90-minute dance and sung piece. It draws out the whimsical and earnest qualities that resonate throughout the album and the production, and is a welcome reminder of what makes this show tick, when it ticks well.

Directed and choreographed by the ingenious Justin Peck (Spielberg’s “West Side Story“; Broadway’s Carousel) and with a book written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury (Fairview; Marys Seacole), Illinoise dives forward with clever light and energy. It is a celebration and a release of pent-up sorrowful energy. It delights in its own storytelling abstractionisms, brought forth gloriously on the vocal wings of three butterflies; Shara Nova, Tasha Viets-Vanlear, and Elijah Lyons, and delivered into our hearts by a crew of expert dancers; Ricky Ubeda, Ahmad Simmons, Christine Flores, Bryon Tittle, Kara Chan, Ben Cook, Gaby Diaz, Rachel Lockhart, Alejandro Vargas, Jeanette Delgado, Brandt Martinez, and Craig Salstein.

Ricky Ubeda (center) surrounded by company members Byron Tittle, Christine Flores, and Kara Chan of Broadway’s Illinoise. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Under a guiding billboard of epic informative dimensions, designed most beautifully by Adam Rigg (LCT/Broadway’s The Skin of Our Teeth), with dynamic lighting by Brandon Stirling Baker (New York City Ballet’s Dig the Say), and sound design by Garth MacAleavey (New York Philharmonic’s “Sound On: Leading Voices”), dancing fireflies gather around a lanterned fire pit to tell their stories, whether it’s about ghosts, UFO sightings, or zombies. We try to imagine what this is, these stars delivering signs emerging, quick and sharp, fast forwarding to the unveiling of their individual stories. “Are you writing from the heart?” they are asked, as we are guided through the entirety of Stevens’ album, with new arrangements by composer, pianist, and frequent Stevens collaborator Timo Andres (“The Blind Banister“).

The musical sounds range in style, dancing around the edges of folk, indie rock, and ambient electronic music, engagingly performed by an 11-member band, led by music director and supervisor Nathan Koci (Broadway’s Hadestown). It’s mysterious and captivating, tender and engaging, as the sound draws forth the exceptional dancers to explore the overwhelming condition of youth and “the sense of each other“. Finding emotional engagement within, on the road from childhood to adulthood, the dancers fly forward to the written word that hangs out center stage, and then leading us back to the tapping energy of Jacksonville, through the zombie nation, and the captivating unpacking tale of John Wayne Gracy Jr. “(or the damning cycle of exclusion borne of outcasts forced to sympathize with monsters).” The selections of journal entries are shared and engaged with, “in celebration of their memory and of our future.” And the allusions and feelings of shame and loss are not lost on me throughout.

Vocalists Shara Nova (at right) and Tasha Viets-VanLear of Broadway’s Illinoise. Photo by Liz Lauren.

The piece defies categorization, especially in the framing of “a new Broadway musical,” which is what the piece is being billed as. The entire show is sung by those butterfly-winged performers, costumed by Reid Bartelme & Harriet Jung (Broadway’s Dancin’). They feel forever disconnected from the movement, held up high like hummingbirds or fireflies looking for a place to land while watching those below engage in their storytelling with curiosity and admiration. They hover and sing most enchantingly, but the distance doesn’t bring forth a feeling of connection but rather emphasizes the opposite. Maybe I’ve been trained by the vast majority of musicals to find the song and the dance entwined within, but the separation of voice from the movement kept the piece removed from my soul, even when it occasionally connected to my heart. “It makes me want someone stronger to swoop in to save me from all of us.

It’s a dance show, packaged in the vein of Broadway’s Moving Out, delivered with gentle promise and determination. Peck’s choreography is as exciting as it is moving and captivating, sometimes spinning out the abstract, symbolic, gesture, while sometimes gripping itself to realism and straightforwardness. Combining almost all of the 22 tracks on “Illinois”, the narrative is delivered in a physical formulation, showcasing all the different ways we can tell our stories to others and the complicated ways we can make ourselves vulnerable in that “seductive fiction of the individual hero“. The central figure is Henry, delivered strongly by Ubeda (Broadway’s On the Town), who has gathered together this group of young people to allow them the space and permission to deliver their stories outward into the night air and to each other. The emotional release is evident, and as each story unfolds, we know a larger tale is on the brink of being unpacked, unwrapped, and discovered.

I know it will be easier for me, eventually, if I write it all down, but trying to put words to our whole…to put us to words, feels sort of impossible.” Those words aren’t exactly spoken out loud by Henry, but it is clearly present in his affect, as he begins to enter into the largest portion of the piece; his story, around his two deceased friends; Carl, portrayed tenderly by Ben Cook (Broadway’s Mean Girls), and Shelby, embodied by the wonderful Gaby Diaz (Off-Broadway’s Only Gold). And in their unveiling, we try to stay engaged. It is both easy, as it is well choreographed and emotionally delivered, yet also difficult as the structuring of the whole feels distant and detached.

I must admit that I’m not exactly the target audience, as I tend to veer away from dance and ballet shows and aim myself towards plays and musicals. That said, I’m always and totally astounded by the talent of bodies in motion, especially these dancers, and the intelligent way this particular show delivers on its desire to broadcast emotional and romantic ideals, matched most graphically to grief and sorrow. However, I have a harder time staying inside the piece, especially when there is a barrier between the voice and the body. All the dancers and singers are of the highest order, and even though I am sad that I missed Robbie Fairchild who danced the Henry role in the show’s previous run at the Park Avenue Armory, I was astounded by the effervescent energy and grace by each and every dancer of Illinoise, and the cathartic quality that floats out at the end of this show. If dance is your thing, I strongly suggest seeing this show. Even if dancing isn’t your vibe, it is still worth the introduction to the idea. “My heart keeps changing,” he writes. “I keep changing.” And isn’t that the point of theatre, to be forever curious and engage in something new to find change and enlightenment. Even if it isn’t your vibe, it will stay with you, opening yourself up to something truly unique and carefully constructed.

The company of Broadway’s Illinoise. Photo by Liz Lauren.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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Broadway

The 2024 Chita Rivera Nominees Meet The Press

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On Monday the Chita Rivera Awards nominees met the press. You can see the nominees here.

In attendance were Justin Peck (Illinoise)

Lorin Latarro

Lorin Latarro (The Who’s Tommy / The Heart of Rock and Roll))

Ricky Ubeda

Ricky Ubeda (Illinoise)

Camille A. Brown

Camille A. Brown (Hell’s Kitchen)

Jeff Kuperman and Rick Kuperman

Rick and Jeff Kuperman (The Outsiders)

Antoine Boissereau and Jesse Robb

Antoine Boissereau

Antoine Boissereau (Water for Elephants)

Ben Cook

Ben Cook (Illinoise)

Jesse Robb

Jesse Robb & Shana Carroll (Water for Elephants), Gaby Diaz (Illinoise)

Avery Wilson (The Wiz)

Ensemble Members from The Cast of Cabaret that includes- Chloe Nadon-Enriquez, Julian Ramos, Ayla Ciccone-Burton, Corinne Munsch, Gabi Campo and Loren Lester

Julia Cheng (Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club)

Byron Tittle

Byron Tittle (Illinoise)

Tilly Evans-Krueger

Tilly Evan-Krueger (The Outsiders)

Chloe Davis

Chloe Davis (Hell’s Kitchen)

Rachel Lockhart

Rachel Lockhart (Illinoise)

Phillip Johnson Richardson (The Wiz), and many more.

Don Correia and Sandy Duncan

Joe Lanteri and Lisa Mordente

Sandy Duncan

Lisa Mordente

Michael Olaribigbe

From the ensemble Cast of The Heart of Rock and Roll that includes- Jennifer Noble, Mike Baerga, Michael Olarigibge, Olivia Cece, Taylor Marie Daniel and TyNia Rene Brandon

Ensemble Members from The Cast of The Outsiders that includes – Milena J. Comeau, Jordan Chin, SarahGrace Mariani, RJ Higton, Melody Rose, Barton Cowperthwaite, Tilly Evans-Krueger and Victor Carrillo Tracey

Sarah Parker, Chloe Davis, Camille A. Brown, Reid Clarke and Raechelle Manalo

Ensemble Members from The Cast of Illinoise that includes- Brandt Martinez, Craig Salstein, Gaby Diaz, Rachel Lockhart, Christine Flores, Ahmad Simmons, Ricky Ubeda, Alejandro Vargas , Jada German, Dario Natarelli, Ben Cook and Byron Tittle

Julian Ramos

Corinne Munsch

Loren Lester

Gabi Campo

Ayla Ciccone-Burton

David Peterson, Mary Recine and Steven Melendez

Joe Lanteri and Michael Demby Cain

Michael Demby Cain

Taylor Marie Daniel

Nicholas Jelmoni and Alexandra Gaelle Royer

Joe Lanteri

Sandy Ducan

Lee Roy Reams

 

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