|Jarrod Emick and Naomi Hubert in "contact" at the North Shore Music Theatre. (Paul Lyden)|
BEVERLY - Romantic, heartbreaking, and breathtakingly beautiful, choreographer Susan Stroman's "contact" packs a powerful dramatic punch.
In the North Shore Music Theatre's crisp and classy production, director Tome Cousin, who was a member of Stroman's original cast, is faithful to the show's look and feel while adding a little extra urgency with his in-the-round staging.
Inspired by unexpected moments of connection and fueled by a wildly imaginative musical score that ranges from Bizet to the Beach Boys, "contact" is essentially three short stories of men and women making contact with each other, told through the language of dance.
"Swinging" tells the story behind a painting by 18th-century artist Jean-Honore Fragonard, in which a girl on a swing (Ariel Shepley) is teasing her companion (Jake Pfarr), while a servant (Sean Ewing) pushes the swing for her. Set to the jaunty jazz violin of Stephane Grappelli's "My Heart Stood Still," the mood is playful with an undercurrent of sexual tension, capped off by a clever twist at the story's end.
"Did You Move?" follows the increasingly imaginative efforts of an abused wife to escape her dead-end marriage. Set in 1954 in an Italian restaurant, the husband (Steve Luker) commands his wife (Sally Mae Dunn) not to move, speak, or even look at anyone else while he heads to the buffet. Once left alone, she has a series of daydreams to the music of Grieg, Tchaikovsky, and Bizet in which she imagines the freedom to move any way she desires; being swept off her feet by the headwaiter (Matt Rivera); and finally eliminating her tormentor in a triumphant dance that brings together the restaurant's patrons and staff.
Dunn joyfully executes Stroman's jazzy turns of phrase and grand jetes, and the ultimately tragic tale is lightened by some great comic moments. Tome's company is flawless - spinning, leaping, and landing with impressive precision.
The fine line between winning and losing drives the title piece, which follows Michael Wiley (Tony winner Jarrod Emick), a lonely advertising executive at the top of his game and the end of his rope. Dean Martin singing "You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You" sets the scene for Wiley's series of failed suicide attempts, following his return home after winning an award for his work. Driven by a message on his answering machine to meet friends at a pool hall that becomes a swing dance club after hours, the awkward Wiley tries to get in the groove.
"Runaround Sue," "Beyond the Sea," and "Simply Irresistible" are among the tunes that provide the soundtrack for some sexy dancing, given even more heat by the elusive Girl in the Yellow Dress (Naomi Hubert), who selects and rejects partners with regal disdain. Hubert has the long legs and elegant extension needed for the role, but adds an inviting smile that makes her seem more approachable.
Tome's transition from Wiley's bleak apartment to the mysterious dance hall is smart and swift, and his ability to shift the audience's focus from two dancers to 16 keeps the excitement factor high. Since the original production of "contact" was done on a three-quarter thrust stage, it's not too much of an adjustment to North Shore's arena.
Still, Tome gives the scenes a marvelous flow, and his dancers build on both the characters and the steps to make the essential connection. The final moment of "contact" is so simple its emotional power is surprising.