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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Contact Is Still Exhilarating

Also see Richard's review of A Feast of Fools

Susan Stroman and John Weidman’s Tony winning, exhilarating dance musical has come roaring into the Curran Theatre for a short two week stay. This was my third time to see this masterful piece of dance. I saw it first at the Lincoln Center with the original cast, then during the start of this road tour last year, here in San Francisco. As I stated in my review last year, I enjoyed the production much more on the proscenium stage. I was able to focus on the dancers much better up on the Curran stage.

The set is still the plush green velvet drapes hanging in the back for the first and second scenes, while the drapes give way to a modern New York apartment with what looks like a Warner Bros. set for a Busby Berkley musical of the '30s outside the windows. That set also suddenly changes to a swing dance club and goes back to the apartment in amazing time. Everything looks fresh and new.

The dancers are superb. They are as good as the dancers in the New York production. Some who started in the touring production last year are still in the company, while others are new.

Keith Kuhl and Mindy Franzese Wild are still in the first scene, which is based on the 18th Century painting by Jean-Honore Fragonard called “Swinging.” The third member of the trio is Dan Sutcliffe. This is much more erotic than what we saw last year. The sexual antics of the lady and servant on the swing are positively amazing. Stephane Grappelli’s musical take on Rodgers and Hart’s “My Heart Stood Still” fits the mood of the scene. It is a great opening to a delightful evening.

Meg Howrey is the lonely and touching wife of the intimidating yob of a husband in scene two, "Did You Move?." They are dining in an Italian restaurant in Queens in the '50s. Meg is now more comic in her dancing than she was last year. I thought once again that she plays the role better than Karen Ziemba in New York. She is out of this world, whirling about the restaurant with the waiters and bus boys to “Anitra's Dance,” “Waltz Eugene” (from “Eugene Onegin, Op. 24”) and “Farandole” (from “L'Arlesienne Suite No 2”). She shows great patois at the very end of the act when she realizes she cannot escape from her abusive husband.

Once again, the third scene with the swing band melodies in the background is “choice.” This is the piece d'resistance of the whole evening. The stage is “jivin'” and I don’t think you would be able to keep your feet still while listening to Benny Goodman’s “Swing, Swing, Swing,” or the music of the The Beach Boys, Robert Palmer, Dion and The Squirrel Nut Zippers. It is great to have Daniel McDonald back in San Francisco as the Advertising Executive. Mr. McDonald played the lead in High Society, which started here, and the aviator in Steel Pier in New York. He is perfect in this role and even his somewhat “clumsy” dance is just right.

Colleen Dunn is the Girl in the Yellow Dress, and this role was meant for her. There is a wonderful Broadway story about Ms. Dunn that should be told here. When the producers were looking for the original Girl for the New York production, they thought immediately of Colleen Dunn. However, Ms. Dunn could not be found so the producers said “find a girl like Colleen Dunn.” At this time, Ms. Dunn was in and out of hospitals recovering from a debilitating heart condition called Atrial Septal Defect, or ASD. This means a hole in the heart. As a result, the role went to someone else. Colleen wanted so much to dance this role but could not. She underwent open heart surgery to repair the quarter sized hole in her heart but she still had chest pains. The surgery had left her with a condition called pericarditis. Ms Dunn said “There was a time, probably about a year after my surgery and into my illness that I thought wow, this is my life now, I won’t perform again.”

However, this trouper continued to dream of dancing, and the doctors found a combination of non-steroids to reduce the swelling and a drug called Vioxx which was tremendously effective. She improved drastically over the next month and got back into shape to audition for the tour. Hence, this Broadway inspiration danced her heart out on opening night. She has the grace of a swan, the manner of a goddess and the wildness of a jazz baby. All of this roll up into one amazing dancer.

The more I see Contact the more I love it. The audience I saw this production with loved it too, and they all rose to give a round of yells and applause for this incredible group of dancers.

Contact runs thru Sunday, February 16, at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary Street, San Francisco. For tickets call Ticketmaster at 415-512-7770 or go to the box office at the Orpheum or Curran Theatres, or call Ticketmaster ticket centers or visit Ticketmaster.com. For groups of 20 or more call Group Sales at 415-551-2020.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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