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Ten Cents a Dance

Conceived and directed by John Doyle, Music by Richard Rodgers, Lyrics by Lorenz Hart; Scenic Design, Scott Pask; Costume Design, Ann Hould-Ward; Lighting Design, Jane Cox; Sound Design, Dan Moses-Schreier; Wig Designer, Paul Huntley; Movement Consultant, Dontee Kiehn; Production Stage Manager, Eileen Ryan Kelly; Musical Director & Orchestrator, Mary-Mitchell Campbell

CAST: Diana DiMarzio (Miss Jones 4), Malcolm Gets (Johnny), Donna McKechnie (Miss Jones 5), Lauren Molina (Miss Jones 1), Jane Pfitsch (Miss Jones 2), Jessica Tyler Wright (Miss Jones 3)

Performances through August 28 at Williamstown Theatre Festival/Main Stage; Box Office 413-597-3400 or

Williamstown Theatre Festival is doing something daring and increasingly rare these days - presenting a new musical on the Main Stage for the first time in its history. The American premiere of Ten Cents a Dance, conceived and directed by Tony Award-winner John Doyle (Sweeney Todd, Company), features more than three dozen songs from the canon of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart performed by six actor-musicians in Doyle's signature style, telling the romantic story with their musical instruments as well as their voices. Divided into five episodes, the songs connect to each other thematically, despite their origins from a variety of source material.

The music of Rodgers and Hart is extraordinary, but it does not have the capacity to lift Ten Cents a Dance above the artistic level of a taxi dancer who can merely dream of twirling and leaping like a ballerina. Or, as in the case of the taxi dancer Miss Jones, represented by the five spitfire actresses here, she may dream of the man who got away, piano-playing crooner Johnny. Either way, my lament is that there is no dancing to speak of in Ten Cents a Dance, and with Tony Award-winner Donna McKechnie as Miss Jones Five, it seems a downright shame not to see her do more than a few steps with Malcolm Gets or the other women in the ensemble. The show never feels static as there is continual movement around the stage (even the piano is on a turntable), but - hello - the story is about this girl who was a dancer.

As for the story, Johnny (Gets) sits at the piano wistfully recalling his lifelong love of Miss Jones, singing with the five women who portray her at different stages of her life. Lauren Molina is sweet, infatuated Miss Jones One; Jane Pfitsch is a little less innocent as Miss Jones Two; a little older and wiser is Jessica Tyler Wright's Miss Jones Three; Diana DiMarzio is the hard-boiled Miss Jones Four; and McKechnie's Five has seen it all. The conceit is that the women exist in Johnny's imagination, so he spends more than a little time appearing deep in thought or woeful between songs, and he often seems freaked out when they engage with him. However, they don't converse (this is not a book musical), so thoughts and emotions are telegraphed by longing looks and piercing gazes. This grows tedious and is sometimes kind of creepy, especially when a song ends and the women freeze like mannequins, implying that Johnny is either losing his mind or is in love with an inanimate object (shades of the film "Lars and The Real Girl").

For me, Gets is the heart of the show, steadily pumping its life blood with his accomplished piano accompaniment and easy-to-listen-to voice. As a classically-trained pianist, he is a perfect fit for a Doyle show, and he relates with the various Misses Jones with nuance appropriate to the points in Johnny's life where they intersected. All of the women have terrific voices and each gets her chance to shine individually and collectively. DiMarzio's vocal quality is distinct from the others and her rendition of "You're Nearer" has a little echo of Judy Garland. I have a soft spot for "My Funny Valentine," but I've never heard an angry take on it before Wright's interpretation. Many of the song intros are handled by McKechnie, and her "Where or When" is especially poignant. "Quiet Night" begins with Molina's clear as crystal tones, and Pfitsch convinces us that "It Never Entered My Mind."

Wright's bio indicates that she has a B.M. in Violin Performance and it shows. Pfitsch and Molina also handle the stringed instruments well and DiMarzio is pretty good with the reeds. The triangle suits McKechnie, although she can rhythmically beat on a snare and exhale a few loud blats from a trombone. However, suffIce To say that the performers are uneven on their assigned instruments, with strings generally faring better than brass and woodwinds. In fact, it might be better if they went with the less-is-more philosophy, as it appears that they're just trying to show off the actresses' versatility with the frequency of the instrument swaps. Even Gets has to slap at the double bass in one song while DiMarzio sits down at the 88's. It's difficult enough at times to differentiate the Joneses, owing to the similarity of their auburn wigs (designed by Paul Huntley) and floral print gowns, but it can be impossible to keep up with them when they switch to yet another instrument.

Scott Pask's set suggests the idea of a backstage rehearsal space with tiered platforms against the rear wall holding stacks of chairs, instruments, and music stands. In addition to the grand piano, the other focal point is a floor to rafters spiral staircase with beautiful scroll work. Lighting designer Jane Cox flanks the stage with banks of lights and uses a variety of effects to create moods that complement the music, and Dan Moses-Schreier's sound design balances voices and instruments well, with the echo feature occasionally added to the mix. Costume designer Ann Hould-Ward attires Gets in a nicely tailored, gray pinstripe three-piece suit, striped tie, and suspenders. Each of the Misses Jones wears a slightly different style in the big floral pattern - short sleeves, cap sleeves, straps, or off the shoulder - and some are more flattering than others. I am reminded of bridesmaids' dresses where one size or style does not fit all.

Doyle previously staged Ten Cents a Dance in 2002 at England's Watermill Theatre in West Berkshire and it travels to the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, New Jersey, following its run in Williamstown. His direction of this genre - arguably, his genre - is skillful and he draws emotional and nuanced performances from his stellar cast. The songs are unforgettable and will stay in your head, but you're unlikely to give the story any more thought than you would a dime novel.

Photo credit: T. Charles Erickson (Diana DiMarzio, Donna McKechnie, Lauren Molina, Jane Pfitsch, Jessica Tyler Wright, Malcolm Gets)





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