Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
May 23, 2014
After decades of reviewing shows, I don’t have many theatrical regrets. I see well over 200 San Diego performances a year, and I venture beyond when I can. But I’m still kicking myself over one Big Miss: theater legend and multi-Tony winner Uta Hagen in “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks,” which ran at the Geffen Playhouse in L.A. in 2001, not long before she died.
So when I heard that the Laguna Playhouse was mounting a production with screen darling Leslie Caron, best known for “Gigi,” “ Lili ” and “Daddy Long Legs,” I thought, well, this won’t be the same, but it might be a close second. No such luck.
Caron is 82, the same age Ms. Hagen was when she premiered the role of Lily Harrison. But she can’t hide her French accent, though she’s supposed to be the South Carolina widow of a Baptist minister. She struggled with her lines, her pacing and phrasing, and her dance steps. Caron still exudes plenty of charm, but her performance in this lightweight pas de deux by Joe Alfieri stumbles a bit.
Fortunately, she has David Engel as her partner. An L.A.-based Broadway veteran, periodically seen in San Diego, he’s supremely agile, both verbally and physically. And he runs away with the show, as the funny/cynical, sharp-tongued dance instructor. Predictably, the two disparate types spar, squabble and insult before they bare their souls and share their woes and develop a mutually beneficial friendship. The play, an international success, is mildly amusing, deeply sentimental and emotionally manipulative.
This production has some creative star-power, with musical staging by acclaimed dancer Donna McKechnie , direction by Michael Arabian (who recently helmed “Red” at the San Diego Rep), scenic design by John Iacovelli and lighting by D Martyn Bookwalter . All work their magic. But I still harbor my regret – and I guess I always will.
“Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks” runs through June 8 at the Laguna Playhouse.
©2014 PAT LAUNER