Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
“DANCING IN THE DARK” – The Old Globe Theatre
AIRDATE: MARCH 21, 2008
Too bad there are already three movie musicals called “That’s Entertainment” — and it’s the over-exposed theme-song of the Oscars. Otherwise, that’s what the Old Globe’s world premiere musical would be called, instead of “Dancing in the Dark.” “That’s Entertainment” is the high-spirited opening and closing number of the new show and it’s much more energetic and representative than the title tune. But both are wonderful creations of composer Arthur Schwartz and lyricist Howard Dietz, whose songs were crammed into “The Band Wagon,” a 1931 revue that became a classic MGM movie in 1953. Now along comes playwright Douglas Carter Beane to rewrite the book, plump up the plot-lines, integrate the songs far better and provide a bus-and-truckload full of theater in-jokes. There are lots of hearty laughs, several love stories, and a barrel of really good songs. The choreography is excellent, too, though alas, there’s no Fred Astaire at its center. Who could ever replicate suave Astaire and the glorious Cyd Charisse of the film? These creators obviously decided, Why try?
“Dancing in the Dark” features familiar TV sci-fi actor Scott Bakula as Tony Hunter, the washed-up musical theater hoofer turned movie-star. When we meet him, he’s become a has-been in Hollywood , too. But self-aggrandizing, hammy English actor Jeffrey Cordova is asking him to make a comeback, starring in Jeffrey’s musical theater directing debut. ‘How hard could it be ?, Jeffrey asks. ‘It’s all entertainment.’ He promptly turns a light-hearted musical romp into a deadly riff on “Faust.” The choreographer he hires is a modern-dance artiste who insists on a starring role for his leading lady, on and off the stage. This doomed theatrical endeavor encounters numerous disasters before it’s reinstated by Tony and the humorous writing team of Lily and Lester Martin, obvious stand-ins for the MGM screenwriters, the famed lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green. They never got to finish the film which ended up a kind of mishmash pastiche. Now, the story hangs together respectably, though it’s still just fluff. Well, that’s entertainment!
We witness all the behind-the-scenes insanity of mounting a new musical, most of which must have felt mighty familiar to the cast of this world premiere. The principals are all multi-talented triple-threats, except for Bakula , who isn’t much of a dancer, though he’s an engaging performer. The others dance admirably, sing wonderfully and pull off the comedy with aplomb. If there’s a standout in this gifted ensemble, it’s big-voiced, comical Beth Leavel as Lily.
The show is really great fun — a delightful evening of old-fashioned, dance- happy musical theater, complete with a splashy overture. It has the look and feel and tingle of Broadway. So see it now in its out-of-town tryout – which is just what the show is all about.
*”Dancing in the Dark,” at the Old Globe Theatre, has been extended through April 20
©2008 PAT LAUNER