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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on March 8, 2000. All rights

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Broadway Review: `Swing!’

Sure, the title tells it, and the show delivers it,

but is that enough?

As an evening devoted to swing dancing, jazz singing, and a sprinkling

of popular sentiments, "Swing" has its charms. It also has

its weaknesses, even if it isn’t in the knees. Considering how such

recent (almost) all-dance musicals such as "Fosse" and "Contact"

have succeeded as totally satisfying theater experiences without the

help of either book or narrative thread, "Swing," enters the

arena with more heart than soul, and more bounce than flair. Yet by

the time the rousing finale swings around, putting the spotlight on

the onstage big band of Casey MacGill and the Gotham City Gates, and

the ebullient full company of dancers, for the heart-pounding "Swing,

Swing, Swing," you will be hard-pressed not to start dancing in

the aisles.

Worth mentioning is that the band, on a moving bandstand, is made

up of former members of the Blues Jumpers, Count Basie Band, Lionel

Hampton Band, and other big band luminaries. That’s right, if you

guessed that the immortal theme song, written by Louis Prima, Andy

Razaf, and Leon Berry is currently the hottest spots in both "Fosse,"

and "Contact." It’s also right that you can always enjoy it

one more time when it performed so well, as it is in all three cases.

Unlike the uniqueness you recognize in the career retrospective of

"Fosse," or the thrill you feel of seeing dance carved into

an adventure in "Contact," "Swing" does not come armed

with any astonishing insights, dazzling concepts, or any bright new

visions about the genre. As energetically directed and choreographed

by Lynne Taylor-Corbett, "Swing" provides a wonderful showcase

for its company of extraordinary dancers without showcasing any new

ideas, either about dance, the eras and places it evokes, or the people

who lived in it.

I have no idea what the renowned director Jerry Zaks (listed in the

program as production supervisor) has contributed, but it surely wasn’t

any kind of "super vision," which is exactly what the show

sorely needs. Even so, the 20 or so swing, Lindy, and jitterbug dances

that pay an homage to the West Coast, Country Western, Latin, and

traditional swomg styles, are presented with enough verve and vitality

to put a smile on any face.

As a variety show, "Swing" moves speedily from one amusing

dance number to the next, with time out for some excellent vocals

from the graceful and popular songstress Ann Hampton Callaway; the

mellow-voiced and appealing Everett Bradley; and the vivacious and

comical Laura Benanti.

A mere suggestion of a budding relationship between the Callaway and

Bradley is woven through the show using the Duke Ellington-Sid Kuller

ditty "Bli Blip," and "All of Me," co-mingled with,

"I Won’t Dance," as a bridge to romance. Callaway is credited

with writing (indeed, some very bright and sassy contributions) additional

lyrics to all the above, as well as her formidably delivered solo,

"Stompin’ at the Savoy." With the always poignant "I’ll

Be Seeing You," Callaway, who is making her Broadway debut, provides

a lovely vocal enhancement to a bittersweet pas de deux for the romantically

entwined dancers Scott Fowler and Caitlin Carter.

As good as these soloists are, the audience rightly goes ga ga over

chubby Michael Gruber, who, with Open Swing and Country-Dance World

Champions (1995-1998) Laureen Baldovi and Robert Royston (providing

their own choreography) and company, have a showstopper in "Boogie

Woogie Country."

Almost all the dances, as performed by the pairs of world class prize-winning

swing dancers that have been assembled to rejoice in this neo-swing

celebration, earn approval. West Coast swing couple: Beverly Durand

and Aldrin Gonzalez, Latin Swing Couple: Carlos Sierra-Lopez and Maria

Torres are impressive doing their individualized lifts and throws

in "Throw That Girl Around" and Show Me What You Got." A favorite

of mine was "Bill’s Bounce," in which Gonzales and Fowler

dance with Beverly Durand and Carol Bentley, who get tossed through

the air and bounced off the floor with the greatest of ease (helped

along by some aerial attachments).

One segment is rightly devoted to our nostalgia for the USO, where

the GI’s jive with pretty hostesses and engage in medleys that include

"A String of Pearls," "I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo,"

"Candy," "In the Mood," and "Don’t Sit Under the

Apple Tree." The balance of the show is really about bringing

a modern edge to the era of the zoot suit and bobby socks. As expected

William Ivey Long’s costumes are the cat’s meow. For two hours, the

songs and dances, performed within Thomas Lynch’s not very exciting

unit set which eventually get transformed into an Art Deco hotel ballroom,

never let you forget that it’s "Swing, Brother, Swing." The

aisles of the St. James Theater are not conducive to dancing, but

that didn’t stop more than one couple from doing just that while the

band played its exit music — "It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It

Ain’t Got That Swing)." HHH

— Simon Saltzman

Swing, St. James Theater, 246 West 44 Street. $20 to $75.

Tele-Charge, 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.

For current information on Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, music,

and dance call NYC/On Stage at 212-768-1818, a 24-hour performing

arts hotline operated by the Theater Development Fund. The TKTS same-day,

half-price ticket booth at Times Square (Broadway & 47th) is open

daily, 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. for evening performances; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

for Wednesday and Saturday matinees; and noon to closing for Sunday

matinees. The lower Manhattan booth, on the Mezzanine at 2 World Trade

Center, is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Saturday

11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; closed Sunday. Cash or travelers’ checks only.

Visit TKTS at: www.tdf.org.

A Broadway ticket line at 212-302-4111 gives information on Broadway,

selected Off-Broadway, and touring shows in other cities; calls can

be transferred to a ticket agent. Sponsored by Continental Airlines

and the New York Times.


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