Contact, last year's winner of four Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Choreography, is now in full swing, pun intended, at the Buell Theatre. And swing's the thing with this production—it consists of three separate dances, each somehow tied to the theme of "swing."
Part I: "Swinging" is a fantasy derived from a painting entitled "The Swing," circa 1768 by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, depicting a girl on a swing. The dance involves a servant, an aristocrat, and a girl on a swing, with their ménage a trois set to Rogers and Hart's "My Heart Stood Still" performed by Stephane Grappelli. This is a charming, downright funny and risqué work that includes a pas de duex on a swing that is a no-holds-barred tantric "how to."
Part II: "Did You Move?" is a melodramatic tale set in an Italian supper club in the Queens in 1954, involving an abusive husband and a repressed wife, who plays out her "swingers" fantasy in operatic overtones set to the music of Tchaikovsky, Greig, and Bizet. This is a muscular piece that mixes classical and modern technique involving everything from Russian kick dancing to inventive, remarkably synchronized chorus lines.
Part III: "Contact," the title piece, is the second act. The story line involves an award-winning advertising executive who is suicidal and in therapy. One sleepless night he wanders into an after hours dance club and his life is transformed by the hot swing dancing and his encounter with "the girl in the yellow dress." The boy meets girl dance courtship evolves using a mix of oldies but goodies pop-rock hits and some disco music, reaches a crescendo in Benny Goodman's "Sing, sing, sing," and waltzes to a sublime final denouement in Van Morrison's "Moondance." If swing is your thing, you'll enjoy some hot numbers here.
Susan Stroman, Contact's director slash choreographer, has won three Tony awards, for Crazy for You, the revival of Showboat, and now Contact, not to mention the work she did for what is currently the hottest ticket in New York, The Producers. And Contact is without a doubt a well danced show and worth seeing for that reason. But the idea that a vaguely thematic three act dance with no original music, minimal plot devices, and hardly any acting requirements to speak of can win a Tony for Best Musical is sad commentary on the state of Broadway. Obviously, we need a new category for dance productions and more resolve on the part of the selection committee to drop a category when the lack of productions warrants it. We could call this reform "Truth in Advertising."
Contact runs through October 28th (that's this Sunday) at the Buell Theatre. 303-893-4100.