BWW Album Review: HALF TIME Never Quite Scores The Win
Based loosely on a true story, Half Time tells a classic fish-out-of-water story: a group of senior citizen dancers who audition to be halftime dancers, only to panic when they learn they have to dance hip-hop. The musical, which includes some of the last songs written by theatre legend Marvin Hamlisch, is certainly charming, but it never quite transcends the cheesiness of its material.
This is no knock on the cast, which includes some Broadway icons turning in great, fun performances. Tony winner Donna McKechnie, for instance, is one of the powerhouse voices on the album and brings nuance even to fairly predictable moments, while newly minted Tony winner André De Shields is as smoothly charming as ever. But the score - written by Matthew Sklar and Nell Benjamin with additional songs by Hamlisch and Ester Dean - can't quite bridge the gap between its old-fashioned sounds and its attempts to mimic (or pastiche) modern hip-hop, resulting in a mish-mash that's occasionally funny but more often frustrating.
At first, with the snazzy opening song "A Number," there's something sharply witty about the score. The lyrics are hilariously specific and snarky, which balances out the deeply traditional sound of the score. Unfortunately, the Snarky Old People characterization gets grating after several songs in the same vein. It's not that the humor isn't funny, it's that it repeats itself too much. How many times can we rely on the "spunky old people can be Cool too?" punchlines? The show doesn't seem to know if it wants to be a heartfelt depiction of these characters or a parody of them (or, alternately, if it wants us to laugh with them or at them), and that indecisiveness shows in the music.
The corny, obvious humor can get to be a little much sometimes, but every now and then, there's a moment of real, powerful emotion. Nowhere is this more obvious than on Lori Tan Chinn's "The Waters Rise," a beautiful, devastating song about the mundane moments of sadness watching a loved one succumb to Alzheimer's (or a similar ailment). "I read somewhere that drowning is the softest way to die," she sings, reflecting on the slow rising tide of losing her husband even while he was still alive. It's a rare moment of calm, genuine emotion in a score that too often goes for paint-by-numbers emotional beats.
The album is dedicated to memory of the late, great Georgia Engel, whose unmistakable voice is a steady presence on the album but also, unfortunately, is featured on some of my least favorite tracks. When the album begins to depict its version of hip-hop - as in "Dorothy/Dottie" and "Swagger" - the humor crosses the line over into uncomfortable cringe comedy, and it never quite recovers. A similar lowlight is the faux-salsa "Como No?" featuring a very game Nancy Ticotin and a very tired sexy-Latina stereotype. By the end, with the heartfelt final songs "New Point of View" and "Gotta Get Up," the show has managed to regain its footing somewhat, reminding us that this is, in fact, an uplifting and cheery story that we're meant to celebrate. It's not perfect by any means, but the show truly is at its best when it embraces moments of genuine humor and connection, rather than leaning too hard into low-hanging punchlines.