BWW Review: World Premiere of THE FLOORSHOW at Theatre 71 by Combustion Collective
"No matter what you tell them, people are always going to interpret the story in their own way." Claire, THE FLOORSHOW
Written by Dann Berg and Avital Asuleen (Director/Choreographer), THE FLOORSHOW intersperses song-and-dance numbers into the dramatization of the personal and professional hurdles that an all-female performance troupe faces in 1951 New York City. Moving between onstage and backstage at The Gilded Palace, THE FLOORSHOW nests an emotionally rich female-sisterhood narrative within a framework of creative competition and sexism.
From newbie to veteran, all of the performers have an eye on a similar prize: to move into a more prominent role onstage and/or off. But these dancing girls are anything but wind-up dolls; each has a distinct backstory and perspective that shapes their experience and motivates them to succeed. In between performances, they dash backstage to change clothes and catch up about dating, working two jobs, and seeking the big break that may be coming...or not.
Although the ensemble's performers share equal star billing at The Gilded Palace, a power dynamic lands with a velvet fist: Claire (Desiree Justin) balances criticism with compassion in her role as dance captain:
"In general girls, we're aiming for a 'sugar and spice and everything nice' kind of attitude. Not vulgarity."
"So we should stop spitting into the audience?" asks the contrary-and-comedic Valentina (Kacie Burns). Even in ruffles and lace, Valentina cracks the whip: "If you can't handle rejection, you're in the wrong business."
One of the benefits of the dual-location dynamic of this show is we get holistic access: singing and dancing onstage and backstage tete-a-tetes.
BESS (Beth Conley): "Look at this! Women's Day has a how-to section on 'cozy afghans.'"
MARY (Alyssa Fuhrman): "That's perfect, with the weather getting colder."
BESS: We could have a contest. We could each pick a pattern, and see who finishes first.
VALENTINA: The winner has the least amount of life outside this nightclub.
Rachel (Beth Koepp), the group's newest member, soon attracts the attention of a Hollywood honcho. But the limelight is not for everyone. Carol (Rachel Lauren James) is Claire's childhood friend who undergoes a personal crisis and reframes her needs: "But right this second, I need the comfort of just being in the chorus and not standing out."
The hard-working Mary is the eternal optimist: "Claire, I know you're sad that people are leaving the show. But it's their loss. Nothing's changed here. Every night is a new audience, new opportunities. Things are happening. You've got to let things happen. Bess is the niece of the owner of The Gilded Palace; her family ties keep her close.
Although men remain unseen in THE FLOORSHOW, their presence is nonetheless known vis-a-vis the stories the girls tell. But when the dancing starts, the power center shifts to the stage. With original arrangements by Deniz Cordell, the music includes "I Cried for You, "Wrap Your Troubles In Your Dreams," "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody," "Day In, Day Out," "Day by Day" and "Too Marvelous For Words." Costume Designer Joseph Shrope brings pin-up panache to life with the tasteful sherbet-hued daywear, and the nightclub vibe with the shiny stage costumes. Yoonmi Choi (Music Director and Pianist) and Eunjung Jo (Bassist) do their best to provide big-band sound on a small scale.
As THE FLOORSHOW passes the Bechdel-Wallace test, it succeeds at paying homage to 1950's New York's nightclub culture in a tasteful-not-tawdry tale where the importance of having someone's back is critical, particularly at the creative edge where desire meets sacrifice. Although the themes of the show are timeless, the "final curtain" of THE FLOORSHOW comes too soon; I was left with a "So what happens to...?" feeling. Perhaps this new play with music and dance has another, longer version in the wings?
Photo Credit: Michael Bonasio