Review: MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE at Kennedy Center Opera House

This production with music by Sting is onstage through April 21

By: Apr. 13, 2024
Review: MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE at Kennedy Center Opera House
Get Access To Every Broadway Story

Unlock access to every one of the hundreds of articles published daily on BroadwayWorld by logging in with one click.

Existing user? Just click login.

Message in a Bottle, a narrative dance work set to music by Sting, with choreography by Kate Prince ranging from hip hop to break dancing to contemporary, is sometimes maddening but often exhilarating. I found the premise hard to take seriously, especially since the work is about an incredibly difficult and sad topic: the global refugee crisis. Yet, in its best moments, the dancers and their commitment to the story helped me to see and hear the music in new ways. 

While I would not call myself a megafan of Sting’s music, I was surprised to know most of the songs (including the full lyrics to many). The show includes all the hits, such as Desert Rose, Fields of Gold, Every Breath You Take, and even Roxanne. Some feature new arrangements including some with lead vocals by guest artists Beverly Knight, Lynval Golding and Claudia Georgette that bring another perspective to the pop hits. 

The tracks are strung together with instrumental music arranged by Alex Lacamoire, creating almost an opera in form. Yet despite bravura dancing and singing, the audience rarely clapped at the end of a song, wrapped up in the story that was unfolding. The plot centers on a family broken apart by war, and three siblings who lose their father, then their mother, and then each other. After crossing a body of water the siblings end up in a prison before each getting released at a different time. It’s not clear if they’re in the same physical prison, but it doesn’t matter. The point is that loved ones are lost, the journey away from home is long, and the loneliness is palpable. 

Prince, an acclaimed choreographer based in the UK, succeeds at making a unique ensemble work that showcases each dancer as an individual. I suspect much of the choreography for the lead dancers was shaped to highlight the talents of the original cast. While most of these dancers are newer to the roles they nevertheless shined brightly on Thursday. The energy they brought to the nearly two-hour piece was impressive; turning sequences regularly sent sweat flying into the audience. During Thursday’s performance the father and the second son were particularly outstanding, and the versatility of the entire company was clear. 

This go-for-broke commitment to the steps lifted each song to the highest possible level of intensity. But when this repeats song after song, even high intensity becomes rote. I found myself longing for some moments of introspection that were less choreographed. While the story featured somber sections, they were still highly choreographed, with a gesture to match every syllable of every lyric. This choice for stylized mourning added to the repetitive feel. My favorite choreographic choice was the use of repeated movement phrases during flashback or dream sequences, as the children would remember their parents or, for one brother, his wife. 

The true genius was the lighting designer Natasha Chivers whose work was both inventive and dramatic. She casts shadows to great effect in multiple numbers, including one with stunning frozen jumps. Her design also builds on the minimalist set smartly, using simple wing lighting to create a wall, a gate and more.  

Message in a Bottle, while hardly perfect, is a creative, unique show with an incredible cast. Perhaps the music will help to entice audiences who would not normally see a dance show, deepening what they feel when they hear the familiar songs in the future.

Running time: 1 hour and 45 minutes. 

Photo credits: Lynn Theisen


To post a comment, you must register and login.

Vote Sponsor