Regional Reviews: Seattle
Marie, Dancing Still
Marie is a highpoint in the career of Susan Stroman (The Producers), who conceived and developed Marie, Dancing Still along with writer/lyricist Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime, Once On This Island). Marie van Goethem, a 14-year-old aspiring ballerina raised in squalor in the slums of Paris, served as the model and inspiration for lauded French artist Edgar Degas' 1881 sculpture "Little Dancer of Fourteen Years," which was equally admired and reviled in its day. Marie disappeared and was never seen after being fired from the Paris Opera Ballet for missing rehearsals.
Bookwriter Ahrens supposes an older Marie returning to Degas' flat after his passing and sharing her life story with Mary Cassatt, Degas' old friend and fellow artist. The young Marie works in a laundry with her alcoholic mother Martine and younger sister Charlotte. After meeting (and pickpocketing a watch from) Degas, she begins to model for him. Their relationship never turns romantic, but they develop a strong friendship, and when his eyesight starts to fail he crafts the disturbingly lifelike sculpture. Marie finds first love with Christian, a charming but equally impoverished fiddler who accompanies the dancers at the ballet, while Marie's elder sister Antoinette, a former dancer, is a kept woman by roguish well-off lout Phillipe, whose lecherous moves toward Marie lead to repercussions for both sisters. A small but featured solo in a new ballet goes to Marie, and the exhibition of the statue takes a toll on her and Degas' careers and friendships.
Stroman's direction and choreography throughout are outstanding and serve the numerous behind the scenes ballet sections well, but a raffish can-can number, "Little Opportunities," and other touches show her versatility. The penultimate "The Choices: A Ballet" is the show's pinnacle, with a nod to the great musical theatre dream ballets of Agnes de Mille as it recaps in nightmarish detail the plot of the show.
Tiler Peck seems plucked from the stars to play the young Marie, exceptionally talented in all departments, but nowhere as spectacular as her demanding appearance in the final ballet. Louise Pitre as older Marie proves why she is one of the great contemporary theatre actor/singers, and Ahrens and Flaherty's songs "Afternoons with Degas" and "What You Made of Me" suit her well. Terrence Mann is stellar as Degas, peeling away an initial boorishness and combativeness with Marie and then showing, heartbreakingly, how much he values their friendship. He is given three of the show's best numbers, "Never Done Before," "Marie," and the emotionally stirring "The Life of the Person," and he and Miss Peck develop a love/hate chemistry reminiscent of Mrs. Anna and the King of Siam. Karen Ziemba is tough and touching as Martine, a deeply loving mother in her sober moments, and leading two featured numbers "Laundry" and "Petite Chanson" serendipitously.
Dee Hoty is staunch as the imperious yet sympathetic Mary Cassatt, but I'd love it if she were given a song of her own in its next incarnation. Kyle Harris as Christian is a winning and handsome suitor for the young Marie with a voice that will not quit, most well served in the "Between Us" duet with Ms. Peck. Jenny Powers as Antoinette grabs her big number "Little Opportunities" with gusto, and deserves her stage time to be built up a little more. David Elder as Phillipe is burdened with the show's most unlikable characters but delivers big in his featured dance moments. Jim Borstelmann is winning as the flamboyant choreographer and a creepy landlord, Christopher Gurr does what he can as the ballet dance master Auguste Corbeil, and Noelle Hogan is appealing as Charlotte, another underwritten character. The ensemble cast is spirited, especially the girls playing Marie's fellow ballet "rats," and the featured dancers are knockouts.
The design elements are on a rarefied level due to Beowulf Borritt's set of towering lustrous walls, set off by Ken Billington's haunting lighting design, the constantly astonishing and cinematic feeling projection designs by 59 Productions, and the eye-popping period costumes by William Ivey Long.
Marie, Dancing Still will leave audiences applauding still through its Seattle run and seems likely to dazzle audiences of all ages when it moves to Broadway. Vive la dance!
Marie, Dancing Still, through April 14, 2019, at The 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 5th Avenue, Seattle WA. For tickets and information, call 206-625-1900 or visit 5thavenue.org