Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Also see Scott's recent review of Gypsy
Tickets for workshop productions at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) are always a hot item, and those for their latest show, Andrew Lloyd Webber's rarely done Song & Dance, is no exception. The Workshop Series provides opportunities for CCM's young musical theater performers to show off their talents and for Cincinnati theatergoers to see tomorrow's stars. Admission is free, and the number of seats is small, so the four show run usually is "sold out" within twenty minutes of the tickets being made available. As with almost all CCM musicals, Song & Dance is wonderfully performed and produced.
Song & Dance is just want it says. The first act follows Emma, newly arrived Londoner to New York, through a number of unsuccessful relationships presented via songs. Though Emma talks/sings/reacts to a number of other characters, she is the only one actually seen or heard in Act 1. Following the intermission, the audience is introduced to Joe, one of Emma's New York loves. Through Joe and eight other performers, the excitement and risk for heartbreak associated with dating in the big city is presented. However, this entire act is done through only dance, with no spoken dialogue or singing.
Lord Lloyd-Webber's music is often criticized as being simple and repetitive. Both are appropriate adjectives for the songs in the first act of Song & Dance, but melodic and well suited (to the material) must also be used. Songs such as "Unexpected Song" and "Tell Me On a Sunday" are tuneful and favorites of many performers for auditions. The lyrics by Don Black are never complex, but are often funny and move the plot forward. The music in act two, with the exception of the first song, is much less appealing, but does appropriately suit the dancing.
The leading role of Emma is shared by two young actresses, with each alternating between performances. Both Jennifer Peterson-Hind and Stephanie Youell are impressive, each demonstrating a strong singing voice, confident and winning stage presence, and a competent interpretation of the character. While both are fully satisfying, a comparison reveals that Ms. Peterson-Hind receives a few more laughs and possesses a slightly stronger vocal range, while Ms. Youell more effectively captures the required vulnerability and depth of Emma and is a bit more true to the English accent throughout. As Joe, Jason Patrick Sands provides strength, skill, and graceful expressiveness in a visually stunning performance. All three of these wonderful seniors should find success in the theatrical world soon after graduation. All of the eight featured dancers in the second act are talented and use not only their dance abilities, but also their facial expressions and body movement to convey a myriad of characterizations throughout. Kearran Giovanni, Sara Jane Everman, Angel Reda, Sarrah Strimel, Denis Lambert, Aaron Albano, Buddy Blanchard, and Eric Santagata each are deserving of praise for their high energy and strong efforts.
Director/Choreographer Diane Lala does well with each half of the show. She has Emma moving about each area of the multi-tiered stage naturally and has each actress convey both the comedic and heartwarming moments appropriately. Her work with the dancers is always visually interesting and exciting, and often unique. A tap dance number with all nine dancers using stools is a showstopper and Ms. Lala effectively uses a wide array of styles to present the often sensual, sometimes confusing, rite of passage known as dating.
The set design by Jeff Downing consists mainly of scaffolding that is used effectively in both acts and a number of small props and set pieces for the Song portion of the show. Elizabeth Zernechel's lighting design is simple, but quite suitable, and is highlighted in the Dance section.
The University of Cincinnati-College Conservatory of Music again rewards its audience members with an exhilarating and entertaining show with its production of Song & Dance. Other musicals planned this season in the Workshop Series are Nine and She Loves Me. Song & Dance was presented from October 18 - 20.
(Note: The reviewer attended two different performances of the show in order to see the performance of each actress in the role of Emma.)