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