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Pittsburgh by Ann Miner


contact

Also see recent reviews of The Drawer Boy and A New Brain

Originally announced as a "dance play," contact caused controversy when it was nominated for (and won) the Tony Award for Best New Musical of 2000. With pre-recorded music, none of which was written for this show, and no singing, contact does not fit many people's definition of a "musical." (The following year, the Tony committee created a new category, Special Theatrical Event, presumably in response to the controversy.) Without dwelling on the label aspect, the Broadway (Lincoln Center) contact was a very delightful evening of dance with some stunning performances. The current tour version does not quite live up to the original, but is still an enjoyable experience and a fresh alternative to, but not a replacement for, the basic book musical.

Presented in three parts, contact consists of three separate stories, each told nearly completely in dance and touching on the theme of human contact. The first part, titled "Swinging," is a trifling scene set in a forest glade in 1767, with two gentleman entertaining a young woman on a swing to the lovely jazz violin music of Stephane Grappelli. The modest twist at the end is not enough to make the scene more than a lead-in for the other two more substantial stories. Part two, "Did You Move?", is a poignant tale of a domineering husband and his obedient wife dining in a 1954 restaurant. The wife shows her inner feelings and desires through dancing (to music which includes two waltz pieces) in several fantasy scenes. This story is touching as well as sad and at times humorous. The dance in this section is the most expressive in the whole show. The third part, "Contact," is the most detailed and lengthy portion of the show. An advertising executive, seemingly at the top of the world, searches for a way to fill the void that material and professional success cannot. At a dance club, he finds a mysterious and compelling dancer, the Girl in a Yellow Dress. The pair dancing in this part is lively and traditional, accompanied by often loud and driving contemporary music.

Several performers play in two or all three parts, but each part has its own unique leads. In "Swinging," Keith Kühl, Mindy Franzese Wild, and Dan Sutcliffe perform athletic and synergetic movements. The demands are more disciplinary exercise than dance, but all three performers execute the moves perfectly and do the most they can with this minor scene. In "Did You Move"?, the star is Meg Howrey, playing the non-assertive wife who is abused in several ways by a thug-like husband. Howrey is superb in her balletic dance and in showing the depth of suffering, as well as deep-felt yearnings, of the unfortunate woman. Aiding her are several excellent supporting players, especially Gary Franco (Headwaiter) and Adam Zotovich (Busboy). Playing the despicable, insensitive husband in a consummate performance is Adam Dannheisser.

In the all important role of Michael Wiley in "Contact," Daniel McDonald is terrific. His character is not supposed to be able to dance well, but still must perform some dance-like maneuvers with his co-players. McDonald has all aspects of this role covered, including the humor, the self-doubt, and the irony. His co-star, Colleen Dunn (Girl in the Yellow Dress), is very good, though perhaps more one-dimensional than she could be. She and the ensemble are superb dancers. Also in this act is another fine performance by Adam Dannheisser as the club's bartender.

Though it has no live music, no original music, and no singing, contact has depth, skilled performances, good storylines, and wonderful choreography and dancing. The absorbing and charming show played through March 30 at Pittsburgh's Benedum Center.

contact. Written by John Weidman. Choreography by Susan Stroman. Directed by Susan Stroman. Sets by Thomas Lynch. Costumes by William Ivey Long. Lighting by Peter Kaczorowski. Sound by Scott Stauffer. Cast: Kimberly Calore, Adam Dannheisser, Colleen Dunn, Gary Franco, Sheri Griffith, Meg Howrey, Mike Jackson, Keith Kühl, Jason Lacayo, Joanne Manning, Daniel McDonald, Joseph Mooradian, Lee Mark Nelson, Ipsita Paul, Angela Piccinni, John G. Ross, Marcos Santana, Julius Sermonia, Rebecca Sherman, Leeanna Smith, Rick Spaans, Dan Sutcliffe, Susanne Trani, Michelle Weber, Mindy Franzese Wild, Adam Zotovich.


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-- Ann Miner

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