In the past ten years, a number of shows have been created around specific art forms or trends and present that "entertainment" in a theatrical context. Riverdance, Stomp, and Blast are just a few of the productions that have focused on one such artistic genre. The national tour of the musical Swing, currently playing at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati, is similar in its goal and structure, but fails to succeed at the same level of these other shows.
Swing brings together the resurgence of this dance phenomenon from a few years ago with both new and classic songs. There is no actual story, but rather short groupings of songs with sporadically recurring characters, all of which were created to showcase the dancing and music so closely associated with swing.
The musical itself as created has the potential to be highly entertaining. Lynne Taylor-Corbett served as both director and choreographer of the original Broadway production, and her work is recreated for the tour by Lori Steinberg (Director) and Kim Craven (Choreographer). The dances include an interesting and energetic mix of Latin, west coast, hip-hop, jive, and country western variations of swing. The songs include well-known tunes such as "Sing, Sing, Sing", "Blues In the Night", "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)", and "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy", as well as new material written specifically for the show.
The problem with this touring production is the execution of the show. The singers hit all the right notes, but many of their characterizations seem uncomfortably forced and rigid. The dancers bring an amazing amount of energy, skill, and precision to their pieces, but they fail to sufficiently convey their excitement past the footlights. Without fully realized characters or a plot, it is necessary to otherwise engage the audience into the show, and this requirement is lacking.
The show is likewise hampered by a poor sound design (or at least execution) and lighting mishaps. Many of the lyrics are either drowned out by the band or are muffled by the sound system to render them unintelligible. Also, problems with light cues took place throughout the first act on opening night. Appropriate and varied costumes, along with an attractive but minimal set, are professionally provided.
The four singers, twelve dancers, and eight-piece onstage band do possess obvious talent and give strong efforts here. Erin Davie is the most impressive of the singers, and shines in numbers such as "Two and Four" and "Skylark." Clarolyn Maier (sounding and looking a lot like Christine Baranski), Charles Statham, and Chris Boyd display suitable vocals throughout as the other featured singers. All of the dancers attack the intriguing choreography with abandon and even risk life and limb with some daring acrobatics. The band led by Doug Oberhamer is an integral part of the action and keeps the pulsating music going at a feverish pace. However, as mentioned earlier, other qualities that would distinguish many of the performances are missing or muted.
Running just under two hours, Swing is not by any means a difficult show to sit through and there is much to admire. However, the maximum potential to entertain by the touring production is jeopardized by less than fully satisfying (though competent) performances, and problems in some design areas. The national tour of Swing continues at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati through May 5, 2002. Tickets can be ordered by calling (800) 294-1816.