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A year in theater with serious kick


For the first half of its season, Greater Lansing theater showed it is alive and kicking — sometimes with high kicks and sometimes with lowbrow punches.

It’s been a year of outlandish farces like Over the Ledge Theatre’s “Norma and Wanda,” Starlight Dinner Theatre’s “Calendar Girls,” Owosso Community Players’ “Leading Ladies,” Riverwalk Theatre’s “Noises Off ” and Williamston Theatre’s “A Hunting Shack Christmas.”

But it wasn’t silly plots with an identity crisis that dominated the 2018 theater scene. To me, it was a year of spectacular dancing and choreography that elevated several shows to a higher echelon.

“The Marvelous Wonderettes,” produced by Over the Ledge Theatre, started the season with a show that was mostly a concert.

Carin McEvoy, Rachael Raymer, Nicole Martin and Kate Snyder played a quartet singing for their fictitious senior prom and 10-year reunion party. Besides mighty harmonies for hit songs of the ’50s and ‘60s, their movements, each tightly in unison, were a production highlight.

Kelly Stuible-Clark — who directed “Wonderettes” — created choreography that perfectly mimicked doo-wop and girl group moves. The show by Roger Bean lasted nearly two hours. The clever motions and routines made the length.

In September, Over the Ledge presented Brian Friel’s, “Dancing at Lughnasa.”

Although not a musical, the drama about Irish reminiscences featured lively dancing. Lisa Whiting Dobson and Amanda Kennedy choreographed marvelous Irish jigs and dances appropriate for the ’30s setting.

The complex footwork took skill to create and talent to master. Amelia Rogocka, Shannon Bowen, Mirada Sue Hartmann, Chelsea Witgen and Gini Larson skipped and gamboled like pros. Their moments of dance added merriment to a mostly grim play.

A high point of Riverwalk Theatre’s “Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical” was when a cast of nearly 30 danced to the choreography of Fran Norton Ludington. The Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse musical’s set featured huge “walls” on rollers that interweaved with the dancers.

With the help of director and set designer, Tom Ferris, the dancers managed to avoid any collisions on the busy stage. It was thrilling to see the cast twirling and prancing between shifting panels. The choreographed maneuverings compensated for the show's minimalist set.

Owosso Community Players is known for spectacular sets and musicals. Its September presentation of “Mama Mia!” was in the same league as past shows like “9 to 5,” “Sister Act,” “Rock of Ages” and “The Little Mermaid.”

Erica Duffield choreographed those Lebowsky Center shows. She did the same for a sold-out “Mama Mia!”—and appeared in its ensemble. Her dance embellishments helped give more legitimacy to the cheesy charm of the Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus musical. The joyful dancing to Abba songs was one reason the title earned an exclamation mark.

Peppermint Creek’s October production of “Shakespeare in Love,” by Tom Stoppard, Marc Norman and Lee Hall, featured few dances. Occasional choreography by Karyn Perry added moments of much-needed calmness and structure in a play filled with craziness. The well-rehearsed steps in the Miller auditorium were fitting for late 16th century dances and were classy additions.

Fifty years after “Hair’s” initial premiere, the Lansing Community College Department of Theatre proved Gerome Ragni, James Rado and Galt MacDermot’s musical is still a spectacle to behold. With about 50 songs sung by a potent cast of 21, the November production was a mighty musical. The “Tribe’s” messages are less shocking today, but “Hair’s” lyrics, music and dance still resonated throughout Dart Auditorium.

The “hippie” musical that’s nearly all songs and little dialogue relied on choreographed moves for much of its over two-hour running time. Planning endless steps for a massive cast was a monumental task for director John Lennox and choreographer Lauren Mudry. Both should be fêted for successfully accomplishing such a feat for so many feet.

“Hair” had the unison dancing of an army of players and energetic and uninhibited solos. With a sparse set, Mudry’s stylish choreography gave the audience something special to look at. A mostly athletic cast — especially Boris Nikolovski as Berger — made for stunning visuals.

With the title “The Wild Party” it was obvious any dancing in the Andrew Lippa musical wasn’t going to be stiff and reserved. In the Peppermint Creek production that closed early this month, Perry yet again rose to the challenge.

She made the moves of 16 often drunk and boisterous characters seem just right for a party that was wild. The sultry dancing was a centerpiece of the show and an almost balletic solo by Frankie Nevin as Jackie, was a spotlight moment. When a skilled, but too loud band sometimes drowned out the voices in “The Wild Party,” the unmuted dance moves were scene-stealers.

Clearly, as I reflect on the year’s theater, it was dancing that gave me a kick.


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