Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
|A CurtainUp Review
Never Gonna Dance
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.
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.