by Susan Stroman and John Weidman
Original Direction & Choreography by Susan Stroman
Recreated by Tome Cousin
Asolo Repertory Theatre in collaboration with
Sarasota Ballet Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts
Mertz Theatre 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; 941-351-8000 or 800-361-8388
Oct. 23 to Nov. 22, 2009

Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker

Fusing music, dance, dramatic action and minimal dialogue to become a "breakthrough" musical ten years ago, Contact racks up another "first" creation: a collaborative production between two of Florida's most prestigious performing companies. Asolo Rep and its artistic director Michael Douglas Edwards supply acting and technical support, joining dancers from The Sarasota Ballet under director Ian Webb for the premier collaboration in the U. S. of both types of company along with performers and a director from Broadway. Recordings from "My Heart Stood Still" to "Powerful Stuff" underscore characters' centuries-spanning pursuit of love. As necessary "contact" is made in varied situations, process and products are stunning. Part I of three, "Swinging" takes its inspiration from Fragonard's 18th century "Girl on a Swing" in a forest glade. An aristocrat in pink hat and frock, she (flirty and very agile Ariel Shepley) gets set on high by a courtly lover (Matt Baker) who's not above looking under her skirts as she high-flies. When he takes a brief leave to fetch something for her, she goes wild with a wily servant (Sean Ewing) both on and off the swing. A contact, and then some! Still another as she goes back to her higher-life lover upon his return. An imaginative, daring beyond-the-canvas vignette, it's as naughty as a modern party-film but artfully nicer.

"Did You Move?" is set mainly in an upscale Italian restaurant in Queens, 1954. Though he has admitted his wife (Nadine Isenegger, in sky-blue) certainly does "look nice" (so true), overbearing husband (James Clark, Asolo Rep's favorite heavy) acts a crude guy and probable gangster. He keeps leaving their table for a buffet (off-stage), admonishing her not to talk to the headwaiter, server, busboy, anyone. His absences, however, trigger fantasies in which she dances joyously with all (Octavio Martin, Matt Baker, Logan Learned, Steven Sophia—every one a great "contact"). Whenever her husband asks the title question, though, the repressed wife sinks submissively in her chair. Of the three episodes, this provides the most liberating dance sequences, not only through emotion and movement but by freeing the dancers from stereotypic roles/movement . It is too bad that the image of the bully, who finds it hard to say anything nice but is in loud and clear love with the "f" word, perpetuates the association of 20th century Italian Americans with Mafia types. A flaw, indeed. Use of the Italian restaurant and reference to husband's mother's ethnic cooking are at fault. (If you doubt this, imagine the locale moved to a Tempura site or a German rathskeller or a Harlem soul food shack in 1954—and then today's reaction to one of these.)

Part III, "Contact" has the greatest length, most spoken dialogue, and chicest heroine, the famous Girl in the Yellow Dress (captivating Shannon Lewis, who's undoubtedly learned a lot from essaying the first two Girls in other productions). New York ad executive Michael Wiley (effective Fletcher McTaggart) makes several attempts at suicide, in fantasy and reality. Life attracts him in a strange place, a shady Pool/Dance Hall. He doesn't want to dance, in fact hardly knows how. But the Girl captivates him, motivating him to twist through the lively hall dancers (doing a top notch, breathtaking job) and even brave a fight to follow her. When he eventually joins her, he's reinvigorated. But "Where Is She?" heralds a new challenge. The contact that finally occurs is a surprise-different from the danced one but with a more promising union in store.

Michael Essad's sets mirror the seemingly simple complexity of Contact whereas costumes by William Ivey Long spare no realistic detail. Matthew Parker's sound is based on Scott Stauffer's for Broadway. Rarely has recorded pop made such a positive impression in a "book" musical. Direction and choreography substantiate Susan Stroman's wise assignment of Tome Cousin to follow her lead but adapt to regional exigencies. Marian Wallace's stage direction solidifies her longstanding, outstanding reputation at Asolo Rep.

With two intermissions, Contact lasts 2 hours, 20 minutes.

Return to Home Page