Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Tracy's review of The Who's Tommy
Before director/choreographer Susan Stroman garnered fame with the Broadway smash The Producers, she, along with collaborator John Weidman, created the Tony Award winning show Contact. Now playing at The National Theatre, Contact showcases three very different vignettes.
Contact is short on dialogue but heavy on dancing, which is what Stroman does best. However, the piece is devoid of vocals and uses pre-recorded music to accompany the cast. The canned music, which ranges from Bizet to the Beach Boys, is enjoyable. Unfortunately, it does not pack the punch of a live orchestra.
There has been an enduring question that has been posed since its opening in 1999 at Lincoln Center's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater. Is Contact a musical in the true sense of the word? Tony voters seem to think so. They honored the show with the 2000 Tony Award for Best Musical. However, Contact feels more like a modern ballet than a musical.
There is no doubt that each vignette was constructed carefully, each one choreographed to tell a story. Stroman's choreography accomplishes this wonderfully, however, it is the plotlines that seem to be lacking.
The show is made up of three parts. Part I, called "Swinging," brings to life the Fragonard painting of a young woman gliding on a swing as two men wait in attendance. Part II, which is called "Did You Move?," takes place in an Italian restaurant in 1954 Queens and reveals the fantasy life of an abused wife. Part III is called "Contact," and it takes place in present day New York City. Here we meet Michael Wiley, a suicidal advertising executive, whose life is changed by a girl in a yellow dress. "Contact," the show's most noted piece, is meant to be the denouement. It is an engaging and lively segment. However, "Did You Move?' is the stronger piece, exhibiting more depth and originality.
This touring production has a very strong cast. Their dance skills are stellar. Lee Mark Nelson, who took the stage in place of the absent Alan Campbell, gives an excellent portrayal of the depressed Michael Wiley. Nelson is a skilled actor and is very adept at portraying emotion through movement. As the infamous girl in the yellow dress, Holly Cruikshank proves that she is a dancer to be reckoned with. She delivers a vibrant performance. A particular standout is Meg Howrey as the brow beaten wife in "Did You Move?" She is an extremely gifted actress and dancer - one moment making you laugh and the next, breaking your heart.
As a whole, this production feels uneven. Nonetheless, it provides a pleasurable night of entertainment. However it may be classified, Contact is a unique theatrical experience. Contact runs at The National Theatre through March 16th.
The National Theatre