Never Gonna Dance
Music by Jerome Kern
Book by Jeffrey Hatcher
Lyrics by Dorothy Fields
Oscar Hammerstein II, Otto Harbach, Johnny Mercer, Ira Gershwin, Bernard Dougall, P.G. Wodehouse, Jimmy McHugh, Edward Laska
Starring: Noah Racey, Nancy Lemenager,
Peter Gerety, Ron Orbach, Peter Bartlett, David Pittu, Philip LeStrange, Deborah Leamy, Eugene Fleming, Dierdre Goodwin,
and Karen Ziemba
Music Direction and Vocal Arrangements by Robert Billig
Choreography by Jerry Mitchell
Directed by Michael Greif
Scenic Design: Robin Wagner
Costume Design: William Ivey Long
Lighting Design: Paul Gallo
Sound Design: Acme Sound Partners
Orchestrations: Harold Wheeler
235 West 44th Street
A Shubert Organization Theatre
Producers: Weissberger Theater Group, Jay Harris Producer,
Edgar Bronfman, Jr., James Walsh,
Ted Hartley/RKO Pictures, Harvey Weinstein
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
December 9, 2003
Never Gonna Dance has been billed as a Broadway version of the RKO Astaire/Rogers film, Swing Time. The Jerome Kern songs feature lyrics by the greatest lyricists of show business, such as Johnny Mercer and Oscar Hammerstein II. This Broadway show has received enormous pre-production publicity, and, in my opinion, too much publicity in advance raises the bar for excellence. In this case the excellence is in the sets and lighting, as well as much of the technically designed choreography. However, Noah Racey, as John "Lucky" Garnett, a Pennsylvania dancer and fiancée, who comes to the Big City to earn $25,000 to impress his father-in-law to be, lacks the one quality that a Broadway star requires to energize the audience into a love affair with the characters and the entertainment. That quality is charisma.
The time is 1936, and the place is Punxsutawney, PA, and then New York City, in a dance studio, on rooftops, in an automat, on shimmering streets, and by the light of various stages of moonlight. When John is late for his own wedding, his bride-to-be and her father are furious. "Lucky" takes his lucky quarter to Manhattan to earn his way into this high-class family and promises not to dance. However, upon meeting the ballroom dance teacher, Penny Carroll, played by the plucky and playful Nancy Lemenager, he breaks his vow and dances his way to a contest to compete with the very talented Spud and Velma, an adorable Latin duo, Eugene Fleming and Deirdre Goodwin. There are sub-plots, with Penny's sidekick, Mabel, the renowned Karen Ziemba, who really can sing and dance, falling for the street bum-gone rich, Alfred J. Morgenthal, played by Peter Gerety, and together they almost steal the show.
Other sub-plots surround Ricardo's (David Pittu) hilarious Mexican dances with the Rome-Tones (reminiscent of Desi Arnaz), with congas and ruffled outfits, and his pursuit of Penny, in competition with Lucky, whose estranged fiancée awaits his financial success. In fact, Lucky ardently avoids earning his first $25,000, as he no longer yearns for Margaret (a weak and elusive character) and dances across town on every brightly conceived set imaginable. The Dance Studio Manager (Peter Bartlett) is hilarious, campy, and worth the ticket alone. He transforms himself into an effeminate and anxiety-ridden, over-the-hill dancer, now dance event supervisor.
I have never seen such unusually designed sets, thanks to Robin Wagner, with such superior lighting effects, thanks to Paul Gallo. Each new stage design must have cost a fortune and taken an indescribable amount of effort and resourcefulness. I could not imagine the logistics of storing and switching these sets so effortlessly. Never Gonna Dance is a visual smorgasbord of color, lighting, and glitter – a very, very exciting depiction of New York at its finest! Never Gonna Dance also has songs, such as I Won't Dance, The Way You Look Tonight, A Fine Romance, and I'm Old Fashioned. These are the crème de la crème of musical dance numbers. Yet, New York City Ballet has spoiled me, with their ballet production, called I'm Old Fashioned, which is also connected to Fred Astaire and Jerome Kern, and which has exquisite choreography and evocative passion.
Passion is key. When the full Never Gonna Dance Company let loose and tapped their hearts out to I Won't Dance and Waltz in Swing Time, I thought of the old Busby Berkley films, with mirrored backdrops and multiple dance images. In fact, tonight's production included such a mirrored set, and I was thrilled. So, what was missing? Again, it was passion and charisma, two key elements to a great show. If Noah Lacey were replaced by a star, who can not only dance, but can also sing and act, who appears to have passion for his dance partners, who exudes chemistry with virtuosity, and who has a great voice, then Never Gonna Dance may achieve the perfection it deserves. It has incredible stage sets and the excellent dance and vocal talents of the remaining cast, such as Karen Ziemba and Nancy Lemenager.
Jerry Mitchell's choreography was excellent, from a Ballroom Dance perspective. I loved the way Penny danced into Lucky's arms, atop the roofs of Manhattan, and the Company tap scenes were enthralling. They fully engaged the audience.
Kudos to Phil LaDuca who created many of the character dance shoes in this Broadway production. These shoes really had character and were instrumental in the brightly colored costume images, designed by William Ivey Long. And, kudos to Jerome Kern, whose music will last forever, be it ballet or Broadway.