BWW Review: Dancing Majesty Takes the Stage in Fisher's THE LITTLE DANCER
There are very few shows that not only have a beautiful plot and cast to tell of it, but also which leave a person feeling no less than perfect - lighthearted and cheerful, hopeful and with the renewed willingness to be kind...just in time for the holiday season. A show that tells of a graceful ballerina who must strive against hardship to follow her passion, and an artist who must outpace his failing eyesight to see the creation she inspired to take form. A cacophony of beautiful voices swells in the background, an ensemble that helps to portray the majesty of the story being told while lifting our spirits and the hope inside of our hearts.
Steven Fisher's The Little Dancer is nothing less than extraordinary. With its pureness does it seep into our very souls to bring the story of a fourteen year-old girl, living in nineteenth-century France, to such heights as to give the audience the courage to expect more of a production - to hope that every show can mimic the quality of what is now being performed at Theatre 71.
Directed by Richard Vida and choreographed by Lainie Sakakura, The Little Dancer is dazzling Upper West Side audiences with the poignant story it has to tell. This musical has every lovable quality a person can ever desire: from the children who comprise the Musical Theatre Geek Chorus, to the graceful dancers that prove these actresses, too, strive just as hard for perfection as the characters they play, This production captures the very essence of magic that exists in a child's heart when she is given reason to hope; during a time of self-reflection and the wonder of the holiday spirit, we see just how important a place The Little Dancer will continue to hold in the hearts of all those who are fortunate enough to see it.
The character of Marie is wise beyond her years, able to cunningly handle her family's plights with a bit of playfulness and humor; she is optimistic but also human, accepting what needs to be accepted. Her embodiment of strength is forever captured in the creation of Edgar Degas, and portrays a young woman the audience (child and adult alike) would be proud to emulate.
With young children dressed up as ballerinas, donned in sequins and with big smiles plastered onto their faces, I think their excitement to see the show was palpable. I would be lying if I said I didn't have this same smile on my face, even if I couldn't find outfits as cute in my size.
The Little Dancer tells the story of Marie van Goethem, a young student of the Paris Opera Ballet dance school who lives and breathes ballet. Taking lessons once a week while attending school, helping her mother fold clothes and being a pillar of strength as her grandfather grows more ill day by day, she is chosen for a featured role in the famed "Ole Paree Christmas Show." Without the funds to pay for additional lessons, she soon succumbs to the begging of painter and sculptor Edgar Degas (against the wishes of her friends), who is a constant presence around the dance school in his search for a ballerina to model for him. With payment in advance, she is able to continue with her lessons with no less spunk or grace than when she started.
As his new model, she is defiant and does not wish to be called his "little rat," as he addresses all of his subjects; she wishes to be treated with the dignity a hardworking young woman deserves. After putting up with his off-putting moods, his "masterpiece" is soon complete. Yet, by this time, Marie has already lost her role in the Christmas show and has fallen short of becoming all that she dreamed. Although, she is immortalized in Degas' La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans, made beautiful in her stillness both then and in the present, as the musical begins and ends at the Met as we await the sculpture to return after a cleaning.
And what better time to tell such a wonderful, heart-warming story then in anticipation as we wait for the sculpture to be returned, this time cleansed and renewed, shining like the diamond she was when her story was first being lived.
The Little Dancer is such a truly wonderful show. Between the extremely talented actors on stage and the children who make up the Geek Chorus, there is something so ethereal about this production. There is such profound purpose in the creation of art, and when that art is based on (and a portrayal of) a person's life, our interest is collectively piqued as to why. The story of Marie, as told through captivating dancers, the intriguing Ed/Degas, a colorful plot and the talent and enthusiasm of the Geek Chorus, is such a wild success when in the hands of Theatre 71. To highlight the children for a moment, their enthusiasm to be on that stage is infectious; combined with their talent, they really inspired everyone in that theater to wear big, hopeful smiles on our faces; it wasn't very quick to fade, either.
This is the kind of theater that not only inspires those who take part in it, but also those who watch - those who are inspired by how much beauty can be created on a stage, and proves that there is so much we should remain hopeful for in the world.
The cast consists of Jesse Dalton as Ed/Degas, Laura Sky Herman as Marie, Heather Cadarette as Mama/Mistress de la Ballet, Cat Grey as Louise and Lisa Graye as Charlotte. The Little Dancer features the wonderful Musical Theatre Geek Chorus, under the musical direction of W. Brent Sawyer. Behind the scenes are Set, Props, Costume and Wig Designer Jeremy Bailey-Smith and Lighting Designer Taylor Frith-Brown. Georgia Monroe serves as Dance Captain, while Zach Hyams is the Production Stage Manager and Tama-Rose Bazzle as the Assistant Stage Manager.
The Little Dancer began performances at Theatre 71 (at Blessed Sacrament, located at 152 W. 71st Street) on December 1st, and will continue thru December 31st. Tickets can be purchased by visiting www.thelittledancermusical.com, and each ticket sold benefits Find Your Instrument, a program in Philadelphia that allows children in under-resourced schools the outlet of singing in a choir with fellow students. The performance schedule is as follows: every Saturday and Sunday at 11: 00 am and 1:00 pm (from 12/1-12/31) and every day at 11:00 am and 1:00 pm (from 12/26-12/31).
Enjoy the show!
Photo Credit: Lia Chang