Shall We Dance – A Tribute to Richard Rodgers

Shall We Dance – A Tribute to Richard Rodgers
Excerpts from Cinderella, The King and I, Babes in Arms, State Fair, Pal Joey, Flower Drum Song, South Pacific, Ghost Town, Carousel, Do I Hear a Waltz?, Oklahoma!, No Strings, and On Your Toes, and the music of the songs Lover and Ten Cents a Dance

The Guy – Adam Cooper
Swing Girl – Emma Sams
European Girl – Lorraine Stewart
Russian Girl – Rachel Muldoon
Eastern Girl – Noi Tolmer
Wild West Girl – Pip Jordan
Slaughter Girl – Sarah Wildor
The Right Girl – Ebony Molina
The Friend – Tom Dwyer

Prince – Alan Burkitt
Bridegroom – Ross Carpenter
Big Boss – Stuart Davies
Puppet Master – David Paul Kierce
Puppet – Drew McOnie
Puppet – Katy Lowenhoff

Adam Cooper – Director & Choreographer
Richard Balcombe – Musical Supervisor & Arranger
Paul Farnsworth – Designer
Paul Pyant – Lighting Designer
Thomas Gray – Video & Projection Designer
Matt McKenzie – Sound Designer

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 29 July, 2009
Venue: Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London

Richard Rodgers (seated) with Lorenz HartWhere do you start with a tribute to Richard Rodgers? The composer of some 900 songs and over forty Broadway and Hollywood musicals, Rodgers wrote with two of the best and the most successful lyricists, Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II, and between them produced a body of work that is second-to-none in the history of twentieth-century popular music. Not only were Rodgers, Hart and Hammerstein the most popular songwriters, but they were also the most commercially successful writers in the history of American music. This is because Rodgers and Hammerstein had their own music publishing company, Williamson Music, responsible for not only their work but also for that of over 200 writers, 100 stage musicals and 12,000 song and concert titles. It must be the richest source, both artistically and commercially, of any music publishing company. In paying tribute to a single composer, Adam Cooper and his dance company are also acknowledging Rodgers’s contribution to the world of American music generally.

As director and choreographer Cooper has taken a cross-section of Rodgers’s immortal music, some familiar, some not so well-known, and fashioned it with a kind of a narrative to fit the tunes, linking the music to a journey around the world. After the Overture which comprises ‘Lover’, ‘Ten Minutes Ago’ from the TV show of “Cinderella”, and ‘Shall We Dance?’ from “The King and I”, played by the orchestra seated aloft at the back of the stage, we see Cooper as ‘The Guy’ dancing solo, an obvious loner, but then he is joined by a whole school of waiters doing their thing in a swish restaurant.

An elegant girl (Emma Sams) enters and she and The Guy duet to a mixture of music from “Babes in Arms”, “State Fair”, “Cinderella”, “Pal Joey”, “Flower Drum Song” and “Ten Cents a Dance”. After a bit of bother he is out on he street and joined by a drunk labelled simply ‘The Friend’. They have a few drinks and end up on a boat on which they set sail for a journey that takes them in one way or another to Europe, Russia, Thailand and the Wild West of America. At each port of call The Guy finds a young lady to entertain him as they dance on and on until the finale, a fight that ends in ‘Slaughter on Tenth Avenue’.

Oscar Hammerstein II & Richard RodgersIf the links are tenuous, at least the narrative gives the piece some sort of focus, even if at times it resembles the best of Rodgers, Hart and Hammerstein in a sort of Song by Song show of your favourite theatre tunes, minus the lyrics. ‘The March of the Siamese Children’ could have come straight from a production of “The King and I”, while “Ghost Town” is a ballet proper that Rodgers wrote for Ballets Russes in 1939. Where the show loses impact is where it seems to recreate a classical ballet within the structure of the show itself, such as the scenes involving a wicked puppet-master who controls his dancers by pulling their strings. The jolly but stereotyped Russian dancers also outstay their welcome, but in a show with some dozen or so sections, you don’t have to wait too long for the duller bits to pass by.

Where the orchestra, the dancers, the choreography and the designs all come into their own as one complete entity is the waltz scene with huge chandeliers and everybody dancing to the ‘Carousel Waltz’, ‘Waltz for a Ball’ from “Cinderella” and ‘Do I Hear a Waltz?’ (from the only show Rodgers wrote with Sondheim). This is marvellous, opulent stuff. The members of the cast seem to enjoy themselves most in a hoe-down medley in the ‘Way Out West’ scenes. The finale is the ballet of ‘Slaughter on Tenth Avenue’, written for “On Your Toes” which George Balanchine originally choreographed for Ray Bolger in 1936. Here Cooper does it justice and puts his own spin on things, partnered by Sarah Wildor.

In a varied evening of choreography Cooper manages to keep audience interest alive with some excellent chorus work and he has assembled a very talented company whose ebullient performances demonstrate what a good time they are having. Special mention must be made for Tom Dwyer as The Friend, Pip Jordan as the Wild West Girl and actress Emma Sams (from “Dynasty” and “The Colbys”), who trained as a dancer but had to give up through injury. She seems not to have lost any of her ability to kick up her legs and she proves to be a stylish performer.

  • Shall We Dance is at Sadler’s Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London EC1 until Sunday 30 August 2009
  • Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30 p.m., matinees Wednesday, Saturday & Sunday at 2.30 p.m.
  • Tickets 0844 412 4300
  • Sadler’s Wells

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