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Never Gonna Dance

Never Gonna Dance
Tami Tappan Damiano and David Engel
We can thank Dancing With the Stars for introducing a new generation to ballroom dance - showing today's youth not only the elegance and style of dance, but also how amazingly difficult it is. And, because Musical Theatre West will have several "Youth Performances" of its West Coast premiere production of Never Gonna Dance, thousands of young people will have the opportunity to watch David Engel and Tami Tappan Damiano show what happens when professionals take the stage. Engel and Damiano (and Damiano's swirling feather-trimmed dress - very nearly a third dancer) rip into Lee Martino's choreography with speed and precision. The overall effect is glorious; you leave the theatre feeling like you're more graceful just for having been in its presence.

The downside is that's basically all there is to Never Gonna Dance. The musical, adapted from the Astaire/Rogers movie Swing Time, doesn't have much else going for it. The plot, such as it is, follows Lucky (Engel), a vaudeville dancer who must go to New York and earn $25,000 without dancing in order to prove to his fiance's mother that he is worthy of the lady's hand. This agreement is entered into because Lucky accidentally left his bride waiting at the altar. It comes to pass like this: Never Gonna Dance opens with Lucky and his back-up dancers ("The Charms") performing in a club in Punxsutawney. After the show, Lucky breaks it to The Charms that this is their last performance together, as he's off to get married. The girls are dismayed. Lucky says he's in love, checks his watch, says he'll be married in an hour and a half, and floats offstage to prepare for marital bliss. The Charms are disappointed that he's leaving, but one of them jokes that he won't get married - because she set his watch back an hour and a half. Never mind that she didn't even know he was planning marriage, and certainly didn't know when he was planning to wed - it is impossible to believe Lucky wouldn't know the running time of his own show, or even that he'd plan to show up for his wedding only ten minutes before taking his vows.

It's this sort of plot impossibility that Never Gonna Dance depends upon. Don't get me wrong - in the fantasy world of a good musical, I certainly don't mind the far-fetched ideas of the talent scout in disguise who is looking for entrants into a dance contest (for which the prize, conveniently, is $25,000); the ability to parlay a quarter into tens of thousands of dollars in an afternoon of gambling; or even that Lucky will happen to run into his fiance's true love, so that Lucky will be free to marry Penny, the New York dance partner we all know he'll end up with. But there's a difference between extremely improbable coincidence and downright nonsense, and Jeffrey Hatcher's book does not stay on the right side of the line.

Musical Theatre West's production also goes awry when it comes to its second bananas - Morganthal, a bum Lucky meets and befriends; and Mabel, Penny's best friend and a former performer herself. The pair is played by Henry Polic II and Harriet Harris, who are either badly miscast or horribly misused. Never Gonna Dance is a dance musical, but Polic and Harris spend their considerable stage time not dancing. Harris spends too much time sitting on the piano or being pushed across the stage on a cart. Even her big second act number, "Shimmy With Me," is largely given over to the capable ensemble while she stands stage right and watches.

Danial Brown and Yvette Tucker fare much better as Spud and Velma, Lucky and Penny's competition in the dance contest. Brown and Tucker don't have much to do in the show except come in and dance with a sexual intensity that suggests Spud and Velma aren't the brother/sister team they claim to be - and Brown and Tucker succeed admirably. Joshua Finkel gets laughs as the scenery-chewing Latin lover Ricardo, but he only hits pure comic heights in a few places.

Which brings us back to Engel and Tappan Damiano. Engel easily cruises through the part of likeable Lucky, although he doesn't turn on his usual eye-catching charisma until he's got his partner in his arms. At the end of act two, Tappan Damiano has an unexpectedly knock-out moment when she belts out "In Love in Vain," with a powerful yet beautiful voice she doesn't really let out anywhere else in the show. Opening night sound problems also plagued the leads early the first act - Engel's voice sounded as though it had been prerecorded and was played back on a scratchy record, while Tappan Damiano's microphone didn't work at all.

When you get right down to it, Never Gonna Dance is a sequence of dance numbers strung together with a silly plot - and hampered by the fact that its second-lead couple hardly dances at all. When Engel and Tappan Damiano get down to the business of actually dancing, time stops and the audience is left breathless. There just isn't enough of it to fill a whole show.

Never Gonna Dance runs at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach through March 5, 2006. For tickets, see www.musical.org.

Musical Theatre West - Paul Garman, Executive Director/Producer - presents Never Gonna Dance. Music by Jerome Kern. Lyrics by Dorothy Fields, Johnny Mercer, Oscar Hammerstein II, Otto Harbach, Ira Gershwin, Bernard Dougall, P.G. Wodehouse, and Jimmy McHugh. Book by Jeffrey Hatcher. Scenic Design Joe Yakovetic; Lighting Design Leigh Allen; Costume Design Thomas G. Marquez; Sound Design Julie Ferrin; Technical Director Kevin Clowes; Stage Manager Lisa Palmire; Assistant Stage Manager Mary Ritenhour. Musical Director Darryl Archibald; Choreographer Lee Martino; Director Larry Raben.

Cast:

The Charms - Penny Collins, Kristyn Green and Kate Roth
Lucky Garnett - David Engel
Mrs. Chalfont - Kim Van Biene
Margaret Chalfont - Deborah Fauerbach
A Minister - Daniel Smith
Mabel Pritt - Harriet Harris
Penny Carroll - Tami Tappan Damiano
Alfred J. Morganthal - Henry Polic II
Mr. Pangborn - John Moschitta, Jr.
Major Bowes - James Gruessing
Miss Tattersall - Karla Franko
Ricardo Romero - Joshua Finkel
The Rome-Tones - Seth Belliston, Chip Abbott, Aaron Pomeroy
Spud - Danial Brown
Velma - Yvette Tucker
Dice Raymond - Robert Pieranunzi
A Construction Worker - John J. Todd
Maxie - Sascha Childers
Vaudevillians, Wedding Guests, New Yorkers, Reports, Waitresses and Cooks - Chip Abbott, Shell Bauman, Seth Belliston, Sascha Childers, Penny Collins, Deborah Fauerbach, Karla Franko, Kristyn Green, Kimberly Mikesell, Robert Pieranunzi, Aaron Pomeroy, Kate Roth, Daniel Smith, John J. Todd.

Photo by Ed Krieger


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Sharon Perlmutter






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