There is a saying that democracy is a good thing, except in the theatre. The 1948 musical, Look Ma, I'm Dancin'! is the perfect example of why this saying is true. Originally conceived by the late Jerome Robbins as a starring vehicle for the 26-year-old Nancy Walker, the show very democratically gives every supporting player his or her turn, or turns, in the spotlight; and before long, the story, the characters, and the show itself get lost as inconsequential musical numbers pile up like planes over JFK.
Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee's book concerns the cross-country tour of a rickety ballet company being financed by Lily, a brewery heiress/ballet dancer wannabe. When the awful ballet created for her by a young American choreographer becomes an unexpected hit, the company, and the show, falls apart. Walker must have been a very good sport, the show's only innovation being the first star vehicle to dispense with the star midway through the show. In fact, the second act is the musical comedy equivalent of Spam - filler of dubious origin and no nutritional value. There are some lovely melodies in Hugh Martin's score, but it is not a particularly memorable one, especially compared to that of another current revival from 1948, the peerless Kiss Me Kate.
Jennifer Allen, a fabulous Miss Adelaide in the recent Broadway Guys & Dolls, did what she could with the underwritten role of Lily. Her natural glow, strong comic presence, and wonderful voice almost disguised that she was given nothing to do except bear the brunt of the show's lamest jokes and least-memorable music. Which she did with grace, humor, and the professionalism of a true star. As the egocentric prima ballerina of the company, Rita Rehn was a tempestuous delight, while Amy Goldberger and Julian Brightman, as one of several pairs of ingenue/juveniles, stole the show each time they bolted on stage. The rest of the large cast worked as hard as they could to make their characters believable and even lovable, and the fact that they succeeded was a testament to their talent and dedication.
Thomas Mills directed with his usual brisk energy, although there was precious little dancing in a show that owes its very existence to the world of dance. What choreography there was, by Mills and Noah Racy, was inadequate to the enormous terpsichorean needs of the show, the big ballet burlesque that ends the first act truncated and unfunny. There was no set; rehearsal clothes served as costumes; the lighting, by Lita Riddock, was serviceable; and C. Colby Sachs provided solid, if uninspired, musical direction.
If the fizz that earmarked earlier Musicals Tonight! productions was missing, it was still a vast improvement from their last production, the dismal King of Hearts. At the very least, to see an intriguing title from an anthology of musical theatre history come to life is a welcome opportunity, even if sometimes that title should have remained just that, in a closed book on a library shelf.
(Also featuring Alli Bivens, Stephen Carter-Hicks, Ryan Duncan, Sally Mae Dunn, John Flynn, Rob Lorey, Jennifer Miller, Elise Mollinelli, Edward Prostak, Noah Racey, and Richard Ruiz.)
Book: 0 Music: 1 Lyrics: 1
Musical Direction: 1
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Copyright 2000 Doug DeVita