BWW Reviews: Mark Stuart Presents STANDARD TIME World Premiere at Lancaster PA's Fulton Theatre
Mark Stuart, assistant choreographer of WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN and choreographer of other Broadway dance works (including BC/EFA BROADWAY BARES events) is also the artistic director of his own dance troupe, Mark Stuart Dance Theatre. The LA Ovation Award and Chicago Jefferson Award winner is widely known for his combining of dance styles, including popular and ballroom dance, in his works, and his new work, STANDARD TIME, is no exception.
The world premiere of STANDARD TIME debuted at the Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, PA on September 28 an 29, 2013, to an enthusiastic audience. The current troupe members, including vocalists, partly included Sam Cahn of MEMPHIS and WICKED, Alan H. Green of SISTER ACT, and Eric Otto, formerly of the New York City Ballet, as well as singer Kacie Sheik, who appeared in the revival of HAIR at The Public Theatre.
Vocalists? Yes, vocalists, singing period songs. STANDARD TIME is a period piece made of three shorter works connected by theme (and by a location, the Standard Hotel). Set in the Thirties during the Great Depression, in the Sixties during civil rights unrest, and in the Oughties during our current times of domestic violence issues and public debate over gender and identity politics, the collected work addresses both idealized fantasies and stark realities of American life through dance. Though it settles none of those issues, all of which have existed in all three time periods, it presents all of them to audiences in a new way.
The first dance vignette is probably the most accessible of all three, all but a period movie musical fantasy - a poor shoe shiner working on the streets dreams of working at the Standard Hotel and being transported into the life of a better-paid hotel employee, working among wealthy, glamorous people. As a shoe shiner at the Standard, he meets a wealthy, newly engaged socialite and her crowd, among whom there seems to be a jewel thief. Rescuing the stolen jewels, he wins her affections, but, in the cold light of reality as opposed to MGM, not her.
The dance is a mixture of musical theatre and modern movement, ably presented by a talented group of theatre gypsies who compose the Dance Theatre, which segues into ballroom dance, with vocals, as the party floats to the cocktail lounge and ballroom of the Standard, where a live band and singer appear on stage with the dancers. The entire routine amply fulfills the effects of a Depression era rags-to-riches musical, hopes and aspirations of the hero as well as his friends, co-workers, and the people he meets as clear as the plot itself. For those who love to watch dance but find following themes and plots difficult, this piece stands out - it's immediately approachable and comprehensible, and enjoyable to even those who normally don't appreciate dance.
The second vignette, set in the Sixties, is perhaps less successful because of its stark resemblance to two musicals with which audiences are immediately familiar and can't help identifying with the routine. A group of white birthday partiers comes to the Standard's club on a night when a large group of black patrons is already dancing there, primarily to black vocalists. That there will be a conflict is a foregone conclusion. That the white lead female dancer will find mutual interest with the black lead male dancer is equally so. That there will be a dance-off between the two groups? This is a dance performance, after all. Shades of HAIRSPRAY, and of Penny and Seaweed, and of the "in" white kids doing their best Madisons to fight off the invasion of "Negro" dancing.
The ending of the clash? Shades of the movie version of WEST SIDE STORY and its iconic Pieta. No good can come of racial fighting and of trying to forbid love across the divide, so tragedy can be the only outcome - in its current version, that tragedy invokes a movie still that overlays the stage in the mind of any audience member who knows the film. Stuart has said that he considers this premiere to be in preparation for workshopping the show in depth. This particular vignette requires some work to try telling the story, which is a worthy one, without visual triggers that distract by recalling other shows vividly and immediately. Since the aim is for a Broadway production, rather than boxing this show into "dance recital" limbo, the sooner the adjustments are made, the better. Knowledgeable Broadway audiences will eat this alive, no matter how riveting the dance-off of popular Sixties "white" and "jive" dances, without that, as it feels too derivative.