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.