Reviewed by Bob Greene
Andrew Harper stepped out of Lincoln Center to the 13th Street Repertory Theatre with his brainchild, SONG & DANCE, an homage to the questionably glory-days of Vaudeville and Burlesque. Through exquisite choreography, fascinating music, and some really powerful singing, Harper gives us early 20th century entertainment at its… most real.
We meet a group of vaudevillians in a time then, now, always, or never, setting up for another night on stage. Harper brilliantly opened the entire theatre to the production, utilizing not only the aisles and the people in them but the wings and the dressing rooms. This was truly powerful when Carolina Villararaos dances to a silent audience (forced into it by direction cards) then runs into her dressing room to get drunk.
Shelby Finnie, Paige Grimard, and Adran Hoffman presented Harper’s choreography with real strength and conviction. They were obviously trained well in their art but also in depicting the pathos mixed with obsession that all performers of that era must have inhabited. In short, their bodies moved beautifully, their expressions moved us. Standouts were the aforementioned Ms. Villaraos and Taylor Kelley as a ventriloquist dummy who – toward the end of the production – comes to life and dances in silhouette to a modern tune (“New York, New York”) to be precise. Ms. Kelley’s interpretation of Mr. Harper’s choreography coupled with the ironic tune reminded us of Tim Robbin’s filming of “Cradle Will Rock” and his surprise commentary ending. Peppering this dish was Ryan Pater, whose stunning voice, filled many a section with not-oft-done-in-a-dance-production live music. His ultra powerful higher register seemed perfect for the surrealism presented to us (in the middle of this 1920s exploration, cellphones and pulsating music were seen and heard).
Mr. Harper himself is an excellent dancer, acute executor of mime, and what appears to be a strong actor. As a choreographer and ultimately a director, Mr. Harper deftly transported us to this often misunderstood era of entertainment and supplied us with subtle (and not-so) connections to the world artists live in today.
Clever set pieces provided by Paul Harper and the wild, intricate costumes were by Bliss von Haven. Nice use of shadows within Ansel Hollis’ plot also added to the fun. The landmark 13th Street proved an excellent background for his production, with its wooden rafters and old brick walls.
Any faults that were evident – and there were some in the sense of continuity and scene changes – would obviously be eradicated with more money, support and time, Something an artist like Harper richly deserves.