Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Following a successful run of almost three years on Broadway, Contact: The Musical continues to entertain audiences via its national touring company. Presented as part of the Fifth Third Bank Broadway In Cincinnati Series at the Aronoff Center, the show is unique and an example of quality theater, thanks to both the material and the very talented cast.
Contact consists of three short stories told primarily through dance. The first, entitled "Swinging," presents a lovely young lady swaying back and forth on a swing as two men, a master and his servant, compete for her affections. The second part, "Did You Move?" follows the romantic fantasies of a meek housewife while she and her controlling husband dine at an Italian restaurant in 1954 Queens. "Contact," the final and longest of the three tales, tells the story of Michael Wiley, a highly successful ad exec with suicidal notions. Seeking some relief from his internal torment, he wanders upon an after-hours swing club where he pursues the mysterious Girl in a Yellow Dress.
This show advertises itself as a musical, but many within the industry disagree with this label. Contact has no live music. None of the actors sing, and all of the music heard is pre-recorded. With minimal dialogue, no singing, and plenty of dancing, the piece would be more aptly categorized as a "dance play". The book is credited to John Weidman and each story is quite effectively and efficiently told. The characters are interesting and believable. A sufficient mix of tension and comedy exists throughout. The songs that are used cross many time periods and styles, and include numbers by Tchaikovsky, Rodgers & Hart, Benny Goodman, The Beach Boys, Robert Palmer, and The Squirrel Nut Zippers.
Susan Stroman is the director and choreographer for Contact. She won a Tony Award for her vibrant and visual dances, which vary from ballet solo work to modern swing group numbers. Stroman also greatly succeeds here as a director, communicating depth of plot and characters in the staging of the individual stories, and Contact is her best directorial effort to date.
In "Swinging," Mindy Franzese Wild, Keith Kuhl, and Dan Sutcliffe demonstrated intricate timing and acrobatic moves on the swing in performing this playful sexual romp. As the downtrodden housewife in "Did You Move?," Meg Howrey successfully captures the oppression and loneliness of her character, as well as the joy she finds in the escape of her fantasies. The youthful Howrey is also a wonderful dancer, capably mixing athleticism and grace. The show's flashiest roles, however, are showcased in the final part, "Contact". Daniel McDonald, best known to theater fans for his leading performance in Broadway's Steel Pier, appropriately displays the comical desperation of Michael Wiley in his relentless pursuit to find meaning from life. As the Girl in the Yellow dress, Colleen Dunn is suitably mysterious and aloof and dances with high-energy and sensuality. However, as the lady's alter-ego in the piece, Dunn also shows her ability to be a believable everyday woman. The entire ensemble is to be commended for executing the material extremely well, thus bringing out the many nuances of the piece.
The attractive sets by Thomas Lynch are fun, functional, apt to the setting. William Ivey Long provides wonderful bold-colored costumes which move and flow perfectly with the dancers. The professionally rendered atmospheric lighting is by Peter Kaczorowski.
Contact: The Musical is different from almost all other musicals in its primary use of dance to communicate its intricate stories rather than lyrics or dialogue. The show is about the need to connect with other people or ourselves, to make "contact." The national touring company excels in performing this very interesting and entertaining piece. Contact continues at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati through December 29, 2002, and tickets can be ordered by calling (800) 294-1816.