Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Review: Ten Cents a Dance

The real stars of this show are Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. More than two dozen of their wonderful melodies and their clever lyrics make up 'Ten Cents a Dance', a "songbook musical" conceived and directed by John Doyle. Toby Zinman left misty-eyed if not entirely satisfied theatrically.

Review: Ten Cents a Dance

By Toby Zinman

The real stars of this show, now at Princeton's McCarter Theatre, are Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. More than two dozen of their wonderful melodies and their clever lyrics make up Ten Cents a Dance, a “songbook musical” conceived and directed by John Doyle.

Doyle made his mark on musical theater when he won the Tony for directing the 2007 revival of Sweeney Todd, which required, as does this show, that the singers accompany themselves on a variety of instruments. They range here from bass fiddle to ukulele, from sax to trumpet to clarinet to flute to xylophone to triangle.  But center stage is the piano, played by Malcolm Gets, and it is the conceit of the show that it all unfolds in his memory.

There are five versions of Miss Jones, described in the script as a determined chorus girl, although there is nothing that happens onstage to indicate that.  All the singers wear versions of the same dress and wigs of long red curls.  Each singer represents a different age in the life of the woman the piano player/crooner was in love with.  Donna McKechnie is the oldest, Elisa Winter is the youngest; in between, there are Diana DiMarzio, Jane Pfitsch and Jessica Tyler Wright. They all have pleasant voices, but there is very little harmonizing and nearly no full-throated singing, which, given these gorgeous songs, is disappointing.

We get to hear not only the show’s title song, but favorites like “My Funny Valentine,” “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” “If They Asked Me I Could Write A Book,” “My Heart Stood Still,” “The Lady is a Tramp,” “This Can’t Be Love,” and “Isn’t It Romantic.”  There is nearly no dialogue, only silences and singing, as the show invites us to invent an obvious storyline: Time passes, people grow older, memories last; people  fall in love and fall out of love.

Doyle creates interesting segues. Johnny’s first song is “Blue Moon” (“then suddenly appeared before me/The only one my arms would ever hold”) as the five Miss Joneses walk down the spiral staircase and “appear before him.” This is followed by “Little Girl Blue” and then “A Blue Room.” 

The atmosphere is blue, too—in mood and in lighting—and  the enduring tone is melancholy.  The lyric, near the end speaks the nostalgic theme: “I didn’t know what time it was.” Anyone of a certain age is likely to leave misty-eyed, if not entirely theatrically satisfied.

About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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