Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Noah Racey's Pulse: The Beat of Song and Dance
Noah Racey is the MC and centerpiece of the entire show, but each of the other five dancers gets at least one chance to take the spotlight. My favorite among the cast is Anthony Russo because his dancing has a special abandonment to it. He is the one who seems to enjoy himself the mostyou can feel his joy. He is frequently featured with Christopher Erk, whose dancing has a bit more physical strength to it. These are the big guys in the cast; Noah Racey and Danny Gardner are smaller in stature. Noah's persona is one of insouciance, absolutely perfect to re-create the Ray Bolger role in Where's Charley?, which Racey did at Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut. Here, he offers that show's showstopper, "Once in Love with Amy." Despite a few mishaps at the performance I attended, one with his bowler and one with a cane, he completely charmed the audience. Noah and Danny Gardner make "Necessity," a song I love from Finian's Rainbow, a great soft shoe number.
Frances Bradley is the real deal, an old style tap dancer in what has always been an almost exclusively male domain, and she brings a feminine aura I have not seen before. Her "Sweet Pea" number is a highlight of the early part of the show. A few numbers later she shows a great voice in a stripped down version of "I've Got You Under My Skin" that is about as far as Frank Sinatra's classic performance as it could be. She is assisted by the four men, making a full scale production number out of it. Lauralyn McClelland is featured with Noah in "Baby I'm a Fool," a number that pays homage to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Ms. McClelland seems more rooted in ballet than hoofing. She is the only performer who doesn't get a crack at center stage, and this should be rectified. The 11 o'clock number is Irving Berlin's "Drum Crazy," introduced by Fred Astaire in Easter Parade. The number starts with Noah assisted by percussionist Jason Yudoff and drummer Jon Berger, with a pair of red drum sticks getting a rhythm going. The group then move center stage and use the stage floor as their drums. Later, the number evolves into a series of challenge riffs between Anthony Russo and Christopher Erk. The full cast returns for "On the Sunny Side of the Street" as an encore.
One number seems to need some fine tuning. In the sequence after "Once in Love with Amy," Noah, assisted by Danny, tries to get the audience involved in clapping and other rhythmic mayhem. During this number, Danny pantomimes taping Noah's mouth shut so he has to communicate with the audience without speech and then tapes his hands together so he can't demonstrate clapping.
Director Jeff Calhoun brings his trademark physicality to this production. Some of these numbers are cousins to the strenuous parts of his big hit Newsies. Orchestrator Steve Orich and arranger Ross Patterson help make the numbers sizzle. All of it is presented on a flashy set by Tobin Ost with a great assist from lighting designer Michael Gilliam. The costumes are quite good, fine for presentations in regional theaters such as Asolo, but they might have to be stepped up a notch if the show were to head to Broadway.
Pulse is a great afternoon or evening of entertainment, one that Sarasotans should not miss.
Asolo Repertory Theater presents Noah Racey's Pulse through June 16, 2013, at the Mertz Theater in the FSU Center, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Box Office (941) 351-8000. For more information visit www.asolorep.org.
Cast (in Alphabetical Order)
Written, Conceived and Choreographed by Noah Racey