PAT LAUNER, CENTER STAGE ON KSDS-FM
RUN DATES: 9/16/15 – 10/25/15
VENUE: The Old GlobE
Dance musicals are tricky. Some, like “Contact” or “Movin’ Out,” have won Tony Awards. But many just don’t fly. Now, The Old Globe, which didn’t have great luck in 2006 with “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” is trying again, with the world premiere, “In Your Arms.”
The 100-minute show was conceived, directed and choreographed by Christopher Gatelli, who won a Tony for “Newsies.” Tony winner Stephen Flaherty, best-known for the marvelous “Ragtime,” composed the original music. His long-time collaborator, Lynn Ahrens, wrote lyrics for the innocuous title tune.
The unifying theme is Love and Loss, propelled by the Big Idea of inviting ten of the country’s most acclaimed playwrights to create brief dramatic segments. But there’s a flaw in this thinking: playwrights are master craftsmen whose medium is Language. Asking them to write without words is tying their dominant hand behind their backs.
The most successful playlet, Carrie Fisher’s “Lowdown Messy Shame,” succeeds not only because it’s a truly funny bit, but because it uses Words, delivered by comic actor Jenn Harris, who portrays the playwright poking fun at herself.
The rest of the pieces, like the generic music and choreography, are rife with cliché and devoid of nuance. Despite emanating from the imaginations of pen-wielding powerhouses like Marsha Norman, Alfred Uhry, Douglas Carter Beane, Lynn Nottage and Terrence McNally, these stories are startlingly trite, familiar or stereotypical.
The 19 gifted dancers, like contestants on “So You Think You Can Dance,” are called upon to perform an eclectic range of styles, from flamenco to ballet, tango to jitterbug. The most imaginative moves are for ‘flying’ martial arts.
The memory framing-device features brief and unnecessary appearances by two stars of the past: Donna McKechnie of “A Chorus Line” and George Chakiris of the “West Side Story” film. Neither is a dancer now, and McKechnie, alas, is not a singer, either.
The only show-stopper is Olivia Sebesky’s magnificent projections. Otherwise, the segments veer from silly but not clever, to heavy but not deep.
This show’s not for those who love innovative dance, or provocative theater. But it’s new and sentimental, and for some, that’s good enough.
©2015 PAT LAUNER San Diego Theater Reviews