Tuesday, November 3, 2009

REVIEW: Asolo Rep's "Contact"

There may not be many words exchanged on stage in the Asolo’s Repertory Theatre’s "Contact" but that doesn’t stop it from being a spectacular show.

This clever, ground-breaking Susan Stroman musical is playful, sensual and exciting good fun. The grand display of dance is directed and choreographed by Tome Cousin, who was involved in the creation of the 1999 musical, which is part of why the show is as entertaining as it is. The cast is a mix of talented actors and dancers from the Sarasota Ballet and the Asolo Rep. who, collectively, present a grand performance.

At its core, "Contact" is a romantic show about love connections — some are playful and others are imaginary with a little sadness in between, but all are equally thrilling.

The dance musical is divided into three sections, each filled with simple, yet vibrant stage settings, great acting and wonderful dance.

The first segment, called "Swinging" takes place in a forest clearing in the 18th century with a young energetic woman on a swing (Ariel Shepley). Shepley is a delight to watch as she swings high in the air, flirting with two men - an admirer and a servant (Matt Baker and Sean Ewing). When the "admirer" leaves the scene, the aerial action turns into a game of comical, yet sensual stunts on the swing — nothing too risque, though, but enough to keep it light and fun.

Next is "Did You Move?," which is set in 1954 at an Italian restaurant in New York. This highly amusing segment features the tough yet, verbally abusive husband (James Clarke) who takes his young, giggly wife (Nadine Isenegger) out to dinner. The wife is excited for an evening out, but her hopes of fun are dashed as her mafia-like husband is more focused on getting good service and food instead of connecting with her. Each time he leaves the table, he warns her not to move. Instead, she goes into daydream mode, getting up to dance, flirting with the head waiter (Octavio Martin) and playing tricks on the guests. It’s fun to watch Isenegger dance with a whimsical passion on the stage. What make the scene even more inviting is the humorous action in the background with the two other couples, the waiter and a nerdy cook.

The last segment, called "Contact," is set in New York during 1999. It features Michael Wiley (Fletcher McTaggart) award-winning advertising executive who at the peak of success finds himself in a deep state of depression — to the point that he wants to commit suicide. But a dose of "luck" has him wandering into a dance club where he finds the woman of his dreams – the Girl in the Yellow Dress (Shannon Lewis). From there, the musical goes into a spin of tantalizing swing dancing galore where the men in the club vie for the affection of the Girl in the Yellow Dress, taking her hand to dance. But Michael has a problem: he can’t dance. His two left feet and nerves hold him back from connecting to her. But there are a few surprises in store.

Lewis is dashing on stage, bringing a distinctive poise to the role, while McTaggart brings a nice balance of high-strung nerves and depression.

While different than a traditional musical, "Contact" is impressive. There’s never a dull moment.
-January Holmes

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