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Broadway at Duke: Brilliant Choreography Made Contact A Delightful One-of-a-Kind Dance Musical

& Preview: Broadway at Duke: Susan Stroman's Amazing Choreography Makes Contact a Dazzling Dance Musical

February 7, 2005 - Durham, NC:


Dance was king in the National Tour of Contact, produced by NETworks Presentations LLC and directed by Fergus Logan, who superbly recreates Susan Stroman’s original direction. The traveling version of this multiple 2000 Tony Award®-winning show, which Broadway at Duke brought to Duke University’s Page Auditorium Feb. 7th, also featured Thomas Lynch’s splendid set design and William Ivey Long’s vivid costumes from the original Broadway production, plus Peter Kaczorowski’s original lighting design and Scott Stauffer’s Broadway sound design (as adapted by Michele Disco and Shannon Slaton, respectively).

The young and very, very talented cast of Contact tripped the light fantastic while performing original director/choreographer Susan Stroman’s brilliantly conceived and superlatively executed dance routines for the show’s three very different dance segments.

Part 1: The Swing was a whimsical ménage a trois in which two 18th-century Frenchmen (Kurt Gorrell and Matthew Steffens) and a marvelously uninhibited mademoiselle (Ariel Shepley) flirt and frolic on a swing during a picnic in a secluded glade in a scene inspired by Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s painting “The Swing” (circa 1768). Gorrell makes a dashing Aristocrat; Steffens is great as an amorous Servant; and Shepley is a scream as the Girl on a Swing, who shamelessly flirts with both men.

Part II: Did You Move? was a bittersweet scene of spousal abuse interrupted by wonderful flights of fantasy set in a popular Italian restaurant in Astoria, Queens in 1954. A brutish Mafioso-type Husband (Leo Nouhan) and his mousy Wife (Candy Brown) have their rare night out without the kids spoiled by poor service. (The lack of dinner rolls on their table sends the hoodlumish hubby into a rage).

When her Husband commands her not to move, speak, or smile at the waiters or their fellow diners while he storms off to settle the rolls issue, the poor, thoroughly intimidated Wife imagines an alternate reality in which she is a prima ballerina boldly dancing with a peerless partner the Headwaiter (Eric Lewis Thielman) all around the restaurant.

Leo Nouhan gave an absolutely chilling performance as the thuggish Husband, and Eric Lewis Thielman was hilarious as the nimble Headwaiter. But Candy Brown stole the show as the poor beleaguered Wife trapped in a loveless marriage and quite literally starving for affection; and Keir Basilio, Dan Crowley, Andrea Davey, Elizabeth F. Dykes, Kurt Gorrell, Melinda A. Hall, Matthew Steffens, Erin Tryon, and Nicky Venditti were excellent as an animated assortment of restaurant staff and patrons.

Part III: Contact was mostly set in a pricey apartment and late-night swing-dance club in New York City in 1999. It chronicled the dizzying downward spiral into depression and thoughts of suicide of award-winning TV commercial director Michael Wiley (James Blanshard), whose clumsy late-night attempts at hang himself infuriated the downstairs neighbor whose beauty sleep he repeatedly interrupts. Wiley had completely lost his desire to go on living until he met the tall, blonde, impossibly lithe, drop-dead-gorgeous Girl in a Yellow Dress (Allie Meixner) at the swing-dance club. But can Wiley, who’s no great shakes as a dancer, woo and win this breathtaking beauty?

James Blanshard gave a wry, gritty performance as Michael Wiley; and Allie Meixner was sublimely sensual as the Girl in a Yellow Dress who interrupts Wiley’s Pity Party with a bang.

Leo Nouhan was hilarious as the swinging bartender who befriended Wiley, and urged him to pursue the impossible dream of matching the Girl in a Yellow Dress step for step; and Sean Baptiste, Keir Basilio, Shannon Carafello, Dan Crowley, Andrea Davey, Elizabeth Dykes, Kurt Gorrell, Melinda Hall, Matthew Steffens, Erin Tryon, Nicky Venditti, and Bryant Williams really rocked the joint as swing dancers who party like its 1999 all night long.

Contact, which Broadway Series South initially brought to Raleigh Memorial Auditorium Feb. 12-17, 2002, is a delightful one-of-a-kind dance musical. It was even more fun the second time around when the show royally entertained Broadway at Duke patrons.

Broadway at Duke: http://www.duke.edu/web/duu/broadway/broadwayevents.htm#bad4 [inactive 2/05]. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/Show.asp?id=2749. The Tour: http://www.contactontour.com/ [inactive 8/05].

 


PREVIEW: Broadway at Duke: Susan Stroman's Amazing Choreography Makes Contact a Dazzling Dance Musical

by Robert W. McDowell

Even in the 21st century, one is still the loneliest number. Soul mates just don’t get any easier to find. Contact, the dazzling dance musical playing Page Auditorium Monday night as part of Duke University’s Broadway at Duke series, knows that.

Originally conceived and staged by five-time Tony Award®-winner director/choreographer Susan Stroman (The Producers [2001], Contact [2000], Show Boat [1995], Crazy for You [1992]), with a book by three-time Tony nominee playwright John Weidman (Contact, Big [1996], Pacific Overtures [1976]), Contact made its Broadway debut on March 30, 2000 at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre. The show ran for 1,010 performances and received seven 2000 Tony Award nominations.

Contact won the Tonys for Best Musical, Best Choreography (Susan Stroman), Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Boyd Gaines as burned-out and bummed-out business executive Michael Wiley), and Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Karen Ziemba as an abused Wife, who escapes her husband’s verbal and physical assaults by withdrawing into her own fantasy world). The show also won the 2000 Drama Desk, Drama League, and Outer Critics Circle awards for Best Musical.

A televised version of Contact, broadcast “Live from Lincoln Center” on PBS won an 2000 Emmy Award; and Susan Stroman won the Astaire Award for Best Choreographer and the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Director for her work on this show.

The current National Tour of Contact, produced by NETworks Presentations LLC and directed by Fergus Logan (recreating Susan Stroman’s original direction), reproduces Thomas Lynch’s set design and N.C. native William Ivey Long’s costumes from the original Broadway production. Lighting designer Michele Disco has adapted Peter Kaczorowski’s original lighting design — and sound designer Shannon Slaton has adapted Scott Stauffer’s Broadway sound design — for the National Tour.

In three vivid vignettes, all performed by live actors dancing to prerecorded music, Contact explores the difficulties of making contact and forming lasting romantic relationships in three different eras on two continents. Part I is set during a picnic in a forest glade in 1767 — indeed, it brings to life the two men and a woman in 18th-century French painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s whimsical painting “The Swing” (circa 1768); Part II is a scene of spousal abuse — interrupted by the Wife’s wonderful flights of fantasy — set in a popular Italian restaurant in Astoria, Queens in 1954; and Part III chronicles the downward spiral of business executive Michael Wiley. It is mostly set in Wiley’s posh apartment and a hot, hot, hot after-hours swing-dance club in New York City in 1999.

The show’s soundtrack includes an eclectic selection. The music ranges from Rodgers and Hart’s “My Heart Stood Still” to classical compositions by Bizet, Grieg, and Tchaikovsky to pop and rock tunes by The Beach Boys, Dean Martin, Robert Palmer, and The Squirrel Nut Zippers.

In reviewing the original Broadway production, Ben Brantley of The New York Timeswrote, “The most potent antidepressant available in New York can’t be had by prescription, and it isn’t measured in milligrams. It is being marketed under the name Contact, and is the manufacture of Susan Stroman, a director, choreographer, and inspired alchemist. Advertising has it that Contact is a ‘dance play,’ but those words hardly capture how the show makes you feel. Contactis a sustained endorphin rush of an evening, that rare entertainment that has you floating all the way home.”

Brantley added, “Ms. Stroman (the choreographer of Crazy for You and Steel Pier), aided by the dramatist John Weidman and a dream ensemble of dancing actors and acting dancers, has created the unthinkable: a new musical throbbing with wit, sex appeal, and a perfectionist’s polish. Brimming with a sophistication untainted by the usual turn-of-the-century cynicism, Contact restores the pleasure principle to the American musical. It’s the kinetic equivalent of Rodgers and Hart.”

The cast for the current National Tour of Contact includes vivacious Tallahassee, Florida native and 2000 Duke University graduate Andrea Davey, who majored in psychology and had a double minor in drama and religion. “Basically, I studied the human experience from three different angles,” she quips.

The aspiring actress and dancer moved to New York three years ago. “I choreograph in the city,” Davey says, “and I teach dance to elementary school kids as well as performing.

In 2003, Davey performed Off Broadway in New York premiere of Frank Donnelly’s Two Little Indians, an the experimental, multimedia production directed by Lee Breuer. Currently, Davey works with a few Duke graduates and other theater artists in the Anonymous Ensemble.

“We produce new musicals,” Davey explains. “We create them ourselves, writing the music and the book. We choreograph the dances. It’s really fantastic. We use live acting and a lot of multimedia, rock music, and dance.”

Contact is Andrea Davey’s first National Tour. She will play a pregnant restaurant patron in Part II and a wild-and-crazy clubgoer in Part III. She also serves as assistant dance captain for the troupe.

“To call Contact a musical is a little bit misleading,” Davey claims. “It’s more of a dance play. The stories are told entirely through acting and through dance. There are three separate stories that are connected. The centrality of each story is human contact.”

Davey says, “One of the things that I love about the first piece is that it begins in a tableau from Fragonard’s rococo painting ‘The Swing.’ It’s a vignette about three characters who have absolutely no problem about making physical or emotional contact with each other.” (Kurt Gorrell and Matthew Steffens play two Frenchmen — an Aristocrat and his Valet, but which is which? — and Ariel Shepley plays the giggling, outrageously flirtatious Girl on a Swing whom they both are avidly pursuing.)

“The second piece is set in a restaurant in 1954 in Astoria, Queens,” says Davey. “That piece is about a Husband [Leo Nouhan] and a Wife [Candy Brown] who have absolutely no contact, and so the wife entertains these fantasies. She goes off into this world where she’s a prima ballerina and dances with the Headwaiter [Eric Lewis Thielman] of the restaurant. She sort of lives her fantasies.”

Andrea Davey says, “The third piece is set in 1999 in New York City, and it’s about business executive Michael Wiley [James Blanshard], who’s basically lost his soul. He’s made choices in his life that have disconnected him from everyone else in the world. And he has to make contact with the Girl in a Yellow Dress [Allie Meixner]. She’s this amazing woman that he sees at a downtown swing club. If he does not make contact with her, he’ll be lost forever.

“In all three of the stories, there’s to-die-for dancing,” Davey claims. She adds, “This show is a dancer’s dream come true. Susan Stroman’s choreography is just amazing, and it is so musical. The choreography is intelligent and powerful and witty and a joy to perform every night.”

Davey says, “Another perk of this particular tour is being able to come back to Duke to perform and see all my professors in the dance program and the drama department who helped get me here: Clay Taliaferro, Barbara Dickinson, M’Liss Dorrance, and Jeff Storer.”

Theater Studies at Duke University faculty member and Manbites Dog Theater artistic director Jeff Storer says, “[Andrea] is an extraordinary talent. We met when she played/danced the daughter (a stunning second-act ballet which is centered around her) in Carousel, which I directed at Duke.”

He adds, “She is a beautiful dancer, but also studied as an actress. She appeared at Manbites Dog in the original dance/theater piece about survivors of incest, Walking Miracles. She is a phenomenal presence on stage; and her work is sensitive, articulate, and intoxicating. Working with her is a dream come true, and I would love to work with her again in the future.”

Besides performing in Page Auditorium, the one Duke performance space where she never performed as an undergraduate, Andrea Davey relishes the National Tour’s stop in Durham for other reasons. “I’m excited to go to the Cosmic Cantina on Ninth Street and get a burrito,” she laughs.

“When I was at Duke,” Davey recalls. “I did a lot of performing with the drama department and the dance program, but also with Hoof ‘n’ Horn, which is the student-run musical-theater organization on campus. Being involved in Hoof ‘n’ Horn gave me a lot of experience, so when I moved to New York, I was able to start choreographing right off the bat.”

She adds, “Working with Hoof ‘n’ Horn gave me the tools, so I knew what to do to produce a show. I didn’t have to sit back and wait for an audition to get a show. You can create your own art, which is very important in The City.”

Besides performing in Contact, Andrea Davey will serve as assistant dance captain for the company. “The dance captain [Noah Aberlin] and I are in charge of keeping up the dance in the show,” Davey explains. “For this show, it’s a pretty mammoth undertaking. The dance captain is a swing in the show, so he doesn’t perform every night and he’s able to watch the show.

“When things need to be cleaned up or tightened up,” says Davey, “the two of us work together to clean them up and tighten them up, so the show can be as good as it can be. I also assist [Noah Aberlin] in any rehearsals that he calls. I’m in charge of knowing what every woman on stage is doing at any given time, so if someone is sick or otherwise unable to perform, I can help the swing who performs that role.”

Broadway at Duke presents Contact Monday, Feb. 7, at 8 p.m. in Page Auditorium on Duke University’s West Campus. $35-$45. 919/684-4444 or visit http://www.tickets.duke.edu/. Broadway at Duke: http://www.duke.edu/web/duu/broadway/broadwayevents.htm#bad4 [inactive 2/05]. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/Show.asp?id=2749. The Tour: http://www.contactontour.com/ [inactive 8/05].