New York City Ballet
by Colleen Boresta
May 27, 2012 (m)-- David Koch Theatre, New York, NY
Broadway superstar Susan Stroman created ‘Double Feature’ for New York City Ballet in 2004, as part of the celebration for George Balanchine’s 100th birthday. (In the 1930s Balanchine worked on the great white way, most famously as the choreographer of “On Your Toes”.) I loved ‘Double Feature’ when I first saw it performed and I loved it even more on Sunday. I feel a bit guilty about enjoying the work so much. Is ‘Double Feature’ really a ballet? Should it be called dance theater? It doesn’t matter, not to me anyway. ‘Double Feature’ is fun, fun, fun! I’m still on a high from watching it. The music and dancing keep playing in my brain, on a loop that I hope continues for quite some time.
‘Double Feature’ consists of two separate ballets based on silent films – “The Blue Necklace” and “Makin’ Whoopee!”. “The Blue Necklace” is a Cinderella story set in the 1920s. Showgirl and featured dancer, Dorothy Brooks, is fired when it discovered that she is pregnant out of wedlock. Dorothy cannot afford to take care of the baby girl she names Mabel. The unemployed dancer leaves her baby on the steps of a church, along with a blue necklace and her life savings to pay for Mabel’s education.
Mr. Griffith has been told by his wife to leave their daughter Florence on the same church steps. Instead of doing so, he returns home to Mrs. Griffith with both Florence and Mable. At first his wife is very upset, but then she discovers the money Dorothy has left for Mabel’s education. Mrs. Griffith decides she will invest this money so that she can become a member of New York high society.
Ten years later Dorothy Brooks has become a very famous film star. Mr. Griffith has died and Mabel is an unpaid servant to Mrs. Griffith and her daughter Florence. Mabel loves to dance, however, and often flies around the Griffith’s apartment while she is dusting and sweeping floors.
In the blink of an eye, Mabel is eighteen years old. She is still playing the role of Cinderella for her stepmother and stepsister. Mrs. Griffith and Florence have been invited to a party at Dorothy Brooks’ Manhattan penthouse honoring matinee idol Billy Randolph. Mrs. Griffith has Florence wear Mabel’s blue necklace so she can pass Florence off as Dorothy’s long lost daughter. Billy asks Mabel to dance with him and Dorothy is shocked to see that her ‘daughter’ is so klutzy. Fortunately, Dorothy’s real daughter arrives at the party and proves that she can dance like a dream. Mabel and Dorothy are finally reunited and they live happily ever after.
“The Blue Necklace” is a sweetly funny dance piece. The orchestrations of the Irving Berlin songs, arranged by Glen Kelly, fit the story perfectly, as does Susan Stroman’s choreography. Stroman has selected just the right dancer for each part, and they all know to run with their roles and make something very special out of them.
As Dorothy, Maria Kowroski is much better than she was eight years ago. Both Kowroski’s acting and dancing show her pain at losing her daughter, as well as her intense joy at finding Mabel again. The two School of American Ballet students, Lily-France Cosgrove as the young Florence and Callie Reiff as the young Mabel, are delightful. Reiff has a great solo to “Let Yourself Go” where she demonstrates exciting leaps and turns. Sterling Hyltin, who really looks like a grownup version of the young Mabel, is all quicksilver footwork and ebullient leaps with kicks to the back of her head. She also resembles her ‘mother’ Kowroski, especially since both of them wear the same outfits and have matching hairdos.
Savannah Lowery is a deliciously evil wicked stepmother whose comic timing is spot on. As her daughter Florence, Megan Fairchild is a hoot. Only a superbly talented ballerina can dance as badly as Fairchild does at Dorothy Brooks’ ball. The real standout in “Blue Necklace” is Robert Fairchild’s Astaire-like matinee idol. (Robert Fairchild is Megan Fairchild’s brother in real life.) His solo to “Mandy” displays Mr. Fairchild’s bravura technique and smoothly debonair style.
As wonderful as “The Blue Necklace” is, the second feature “Makin’ Whoopee!” is even better. It is a hilariously zany madcap romp. The music, this time by Walter Donaldson, is again arranged seamlessly by Glenn Kelly. “Makin’ Whoopee!” is the story of Jimmie Shannon, a hapless Buston Keaton-like character. Jimmie will inherit seven million dollars from his uncle if he marries by 7:00PM on his 27th birthday (which happens to be the day the ballet is set). Jimmie proposes to his girlfriend, Anne Windsor, but he does such a bad job that Anne turns him down. He then tries proposing marriage to a string of women in Central Park, but none of these proposals are successful.
Jimmie’s uncle’s lawyer tells Jimmie to show up at a church on Sullivan Street by 5:00PM that evening, wearing his wedding regalia. Then Garrison (the lawyer) puts an article in the New York Times, telling prospective brides to show up before 7:00PM if they want to marry a groom worth 7 million dollars. (The article includes a picture of Jimmie.)
Jimmie arrives at the church and falls asleep while sitting in one of the pews. As he slumbers, dozens of brides show up, including several men in drag. When he awakens, the brides recognize Jimmie from his photo in the paper. They then begin to chase him back and forth across the stage. This sequence of dancing is the highlight of a ballet containing many wonderful moments. Jimmie is even pursued by Anne’s adorable Boston terrier, wearing a doggy-sized bridal veil. At the last possible minute Anne shows up at the church and agrees to marry Jimmie. Another happy ending from Susan Stroman!
The performers in “Makin’ Whoopee!” are all perfect. As Jimmie’s law partners and best friends, Amar Ramasar and Andrew Veyette combine deft tap and ballet moves with brilliant comic acting. Tiler Peck is a sweet Anne Windsor who tosses off pirouettes with elegant ease. The Boston terrier (who doesn’t even get a credit in the program though his trainer does) is the best dog actor I’ve seen since Uggie in the Academy Award winning movie ‘The Artist’. The terrier leaps and jumps flawlessly, runs after Jimmie in full dog bridal gear, and even comforts Jimmie after Anne has rejected his offer of marriage.
The real star turn in “Makin’ Whoopee!” is Joaquin De Luz’s Jimmie Shannon. De Luz’s acting, his razor sharp turns and especially his cartoon character running leaps while being pursued by a bevy of brides – all are absolutely captivating. I loved Tom Gold, who originated the role of Jimmie in “Makin’ Whoopee!”, but I think De Luz is even better in the part. He lights up the stage at the David Koch Theatre with his energy and charisma. De Luz has great chemistry with all his co-stars, including the no-named Boston terrier.
‘Double Feature’ is a wonderful dance treat for the entire family. I only hope I don’t have to wait another four years to see it again.
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