Saturday, March 17, 2007

Song and Dance (Beck Center)

BECK’s ‘SONG AND DANCE’ a solid winner in spite of the concept

Sometimes a theatre-goer sees a production and realizes that the end is better than the means. This is the case with ‘SONG AND DANCE,’ now on stage at the Beck Center. Beck’s production, co-directed by the theatre’s artistic director Scott Spence and Verb Ballets’ artistic director Hernando Cortez is an audience pleaser in spite of the problems created by the format of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s script.

The song part of ‘SONG AND DANCE’ (Act 1) tells the tale of a young English woman (Emma) who arrives in New York, ready to find love and happiness in the Big Apple. But through a string of unsuccessful relationships, she finds something more important: self-awareness. The second act (Dance) concerns one of her lovers (Joe) and his attempt to find himself, his awareness of his love for Emma, and her ultimate rejection. Well, that’s kind of what the second act is about.

The reason for the disparity between the acts centers on the very way in which the show was conceived. The final product is a combination of two Webber pieces. The first, his ‘VARIATIONS ON PAGANINI'S CAPRICE IN A MINOR,’ which was developed in 1978 and the second, ‘TELL ME ON A SUNDAY,’ a song cycle written in 1980, which is based on “A Minor Caprice No. 24 by Paganini.” The latter was conceived by Webber for his cellist brother Julian, and was not intended to be a theatrical presentation. When listening to the second act, if the music sounds familiar, it is if you’ve seen ‘CATS.’ The score was also incorporated into that Webber musical.

Variations and ‘TELL ME ON A Sunday’ were wed when producer Cameron Mackintosh proposed they be combined under the umbrella title, ‘SONG AND DANCE,’ thus explaining the different acts of the show. The results may well confuse the audience which is probably looking for some clear hook between the two acts, which is hinted at, but isn’t really there.

The show, which originally premiered in London, was greatly altered before it opened on Broadway in 1985. The ending was changed from a situation in which the separated lovers realize their errors and reunite (London) to: he wants to reunite, but she realizes that she was looking for love in all the wrong places (Broadway), so they go their separate ways. In spite of very mixed Big Apple reviews, the show ran 474 performances. Many feel that the only reason the production lasted as long as it did was the star power of Bernadette Peters, who gained the Tony Best Actress award for the role.

The first act is a solo piece. Except for the scene changers and a non-speaking cameo by one of Emma’s lovers, the actress sings eighteen songs, including the beautiful “Tell Me On a Sunday,” and “Unexpected Song.” And the compelling, “Come Back With the Same Look in Your Eyes.”

Tracee Patterson is wonderful as Emma. Though her voice is a little shallow in the upper registers, she is such a strong actress that all is forgiven as she sings meanings not words to make each song a clear tale in itself. Her smiles, her tears, her emotional torment all shine clearly through. This is a very difficult role and Patterson carries it off with panache.

The second act is more problematic. It is beautifully danced by members of Verb Ballets. It features Mark Tomasic, one of the very best of the local male dancers, who is ably supported by the female members of the corps. The only weakness in the dance troupe is Sydney Ignacio, who does great gymnastics, but falls short when appearing on stage with such strong dancing talents as Tomasic and Brian Murphy.

Tomasic, who is not only a proficient dancer, but an accomplished actor, is excellent. It would be interesting to see him cast in a theatrical production in a role such as Curly in ‘OKLAHOMA,’ where he could not only sing and act the role, but dance the Dream Ballet as well.

One can only wonder why Cortez, who is a very creative and inventive choreographer, didn’t just create a second act which more clearly tells the story of Joe (Tomasic) so that it parallels the search that Emma goes through in the first act. This is hinted at, but never becomes the total focus. A clear story line would have made the dance, balance the song.

Larry Goodpaster’s orchestra is excellent. Ismael Kabar’s cello solos in the second act are finely crafted.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Beck’s ‘SONG AND DANCE’ is well worth seeing. It is another feather in the crown of the production center which has become the best over all theatre in the area...taking on musicals, dramas and comedies--and doing them extremely well.