Swing! Conceived by Paul Kelly. Originally staged and choreographed by Lynne Taylor-Corbett. Directed and choreographed by Kelly L. Shook. Swing choreography by Molly Mahoney.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Meghan Glogower and Charles South; photo: provided
Brittany Weir; photo provided
"Hit me with a hot note and watch me bounce."
For two hours on the circular stage at the Mac-Haydn Theatre in Chatham, New York, a cast of young singers and dancers perform a wide array of 1930s and 1940s hit songs and dance stylings. This plotless show is loaded with characters, all nameless, who meet, dance, dine, propose, argue and dance again. World War II intrudes on the festivities and the "Blues" enters the picture, but still the youth of America, sing, dance, dine, propose, argue and dance some more and when the war is done, itís off to the Savoy for one more spectacular dance. That is"Swing!" and "Swing!" is fun.
For one thing the Mac-Haydn has brought in a live jazz band to play the score. I didnít expect this and, as long hoped for, the music makes the difference. The eight-man band create a glorious sound in this hallowed space and the spirits of the on-stage performers are lifted just the way the audienceís spirit is: everyone wants to be a part of the action. Josh Smith at the keyboard leads his band through an amazing variety of music and his ensemble are all soloists who can take a moment and make it shine.
Particularly wonderful is the duet between singer Amelia Millar and trombonist Daniel Cordell. In their song "Cry Me a River" the trombone is not an instrument as much as a second voice to bring this light-headed blues riff to a new place. The two are more than sweet together, they are poignant.
Other moments that really stand out in memory are "Bli-Blip" performed for every bit of comedy and heart-break by Alison Drew and Scott Wasserman, "Blues in the Night" in which a quartet of women in black and red wail their own ways through that classic (Millar, Brittany Weir, Carman Napier, Amanda Myers) and "Harlem Nocturne" performed for all its worth by Meghan Glogower.
Lauren French doesnít do as well with her rendition of "Bounce Me Brother With a Solid Four", facing the band too much of the time and managing to mush-up the lyrics and Carman Napierís solo on "Skylark" wavered too much off pitch. Hearing her later in the show, when she was in full control of a lovely voice, made me wonder if perhaps she needs to warm up before going on stage, for she seems to be able to sing with strength and security late in the evening.
For the men in the show there was a hearty "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" from Joshua Phan-Gruber, a fun rendition of "Kitchen Mechanics Night Out" from Ron Tal, and Corey Maskleeís excellent "Take Me Back to Tulsa."
Dance-wise the swing craze developed some marvelous variations during its decade and a half of influence and some of it was well choreographed for this show. Some was not, seeming a bit too repetitive - just more of the same. Still I didnít envy those sitting in the front rows of this theater whose eyeglass, toupees and noses seemed to be in jeopardy every now and again.
Jimm Halliday's lovely costumes do as much to set the scene and hold the reality of time as anything else in this show. His use of white tie and tails (and its variations) in "Swing It, Brother, Swing" was particularly visually effective. Andrew Gmoser's lighting, devoid of mirror balls, was perfect.
This show is pure fun, really: good songs, good dances and a great band. Itís wonderful to have a show fully realized on every level for a change at this venerable summer venue.
Swing! plays at the Mac-Haydn Theatre on Route 203 north of Chatham, NY through July 31. For information and tickets call the box office at 518-392-9292.