'Let's Dance! The Musical' Original Concept and Story: Walter Schroeder with Book: Victoria Wells-Smith
Presented by Terra Bruce Productions and now onstage at Toronto's Winter Garden Theatre
Credit: Ritche Perez Group (and Terra Bruce website) Pictured: members of the cast
A brand-new jukebox musical, ‘Let’s Dance! The Musical’ is an auditory and visual homage to some unique musical sounds and dances from the 60s. However, something’s missing from this production.
It’s 1963, and Marco Del Monte (Luciano Decicco), an actor from Southern California, has returned home to New York City. He wants to begin a new career as a vocal teacher at his former conservative and old-fashioned performing arts high school, Northumberland High. Marco had a slew of auditions that did not go how he thought they would. He decided to return home, begin a new career, have a steady job (instead of one in the theatre), meet someone, and settle down.
Marco’s sister, Debra (Ali Powell), is still a student at the school. Her area of specialty is dance. Marco also meets Sophia (Mikayla Stradiotto), a free-spirited and quirky dance teacher. The two of them decide to stage a show with their students that the school has never seen before while trying to hide their intentions from Principal Sherman (Michelle Shuster), a Northumberland High alumnus. Sherman prowls around the school, sneaks up on unsuspecting students, and pops in unannounced, sometimes to watch Marco and Sophia’s class in action.
The opening night show: Set Designer Joshua Quinlan’s walls on casters roll quietly into place. An energetic cast seamlessly weaves them together to create several settings, whether in the classroom, Sherman’s office, or the school hallway of lockers. Frank Donato’s lighting design sharply focuses on where the intended focus should be. I liked the sharp single light on the 60s portable record player at the pre-show setting because it duly reminds me that we are entering another era. I remember having one of those portable record players. A huge nod of appreciation to Sound Designer Brian Kenny. I could hear every song lyric and spoken scripted word, so thank you for that. Graham McMonagle has finely replicated the 60s costumes from poodle skirts to slick hair, white-shirted, and tight jeans rolled at the ankles.
‘Let’s Dance!’ is a finely choreographed feast for the eyes and an auditory delight for the ears in the musical numbers. Aaron Eyre (arrangements) and Paul Moody (Musical Direction and additional arrangements) have arranged some of these 60s classics that are delightful to hear again. The vocals and harmonies are stunning, most noticeably in ‘The House of the Rising Sun’ and ‘It Never Rains in Southern California’! Victoria Wells-Smith’s choreography becomes one of the show's highlights.
In his Director’s Program Note, Keith Pike writes about dreaming, especially in doing so when it comes to the theatre. His dream to think big, sing, and dance is noble, especially since we’ve all endured challenges and divisions over these last three years. The cheesy, hokey, and wafer-thin plotline is tolerably fun at first, thanks to Pike’s vision of wanting to have fun.
And I did have fun at first.
But it changed.
Luciano Decicco is a suave, good-looking, youthful Rat Pack-looking Marco. Mikayla Stradiotto’s fashionista long-legged Sophia is a knock-out. Michele Shuster is an adorable busybody of a school principal whose heart is in the right place regarding the future of Northumberland High and its performing arts program.
The ensemble members are terrific. They move, glide, shimmy and shake with confidence and ease. They look to be enjoying the dances of the 60s from Elvis Presley’s ‘Hound Dog’, ‘The Peppermint Twist’ and ‘Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini’. Some fine choreographed ballet moments in Frank Mills’ ‘Music Box Dancer’ are also executed with grace and class.
Looking at the bios of the artists in the program, many are Sheridan College’s Musical Theatre Program graduates. A few have been educated outside the province. The original workshop production of ‘Let’s Dance!’ was held at St. Lawrence College. These are young people whom I hope to see on stage in the region very soon. They are the future of the theatre, and their ensemble synergy is thrilling to experience.
But something needs to be added. It nagged at me for the longest time on the way home.
And it finally dawned on me.
In the quirkiness of other jukebox musicals like ‘Mamma Mia’, ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘Rock of Ages’, a connection usually comes through a song, a humourous bit, or a conflict with another character.
That doesn’t occur in Walter Schroeder’s original concept and story and Victoria Wells-Smith’s Book. Yes, these are stock characters from the actor who becomes a teacher because he can't handle the rejection any more to the kids who want to be Broadway stars, that's all there. Instead, there’s a sense that my place is in the audience for this show. That’s it. There’s a sense of feeling objectively removed and relegated as an onlooker.
We should be changed somehow after seeing theatre, even musical theatre.
That doesn’t happen here.
And I wish it does.
‘Let’s Dance! The Musical’ becomes like a jukebox. We put a quarter in; we wait patiently for the music to start; we listen to the song and either appreciate it (or don’t care for it), and then leave. Life goes on whether we like or dislike the music.
Hopefully, the show can be looked at again. At this opening night audience, my guest and I immediately noticed the hoopla catcalls during the show and the standing ovation at the end.
Friends and family members of the cast and crew?
Possibly, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Don’t forget those audience members who aren't friends or family members of the cast and crew, who want more and want to leave the theatre hopefully changed somehow.
Running time: approximately two hours with one intermission.
‘Let’s Dance! The Musical’ runs until August 20 at Toronto’s Winter Garden Theatre, 189 Yonge Street. For tickets call the Box Office: 416-366-7723 | 1-800-708-6754 or visit https://terrabruce.com/lets-dance/
Terra Bruce Presents:
‘Let’s Dance! The Musical’
Original Concept and Story: Walter Schroeder
Book: Victoria Wells-Smith
Arrangements: Aaron Eyre
Direction: Keith Pike
Additional Arrangements and Musical Direction: Paul Moody
Choreography: Victoria Wells-Smith
Set Design: Joshua Quinlan
Costume Designer: Graham McMonagle
Lighting Design: Frank Donato
Sound Design: Brian Kenny
The Band: Paul Moody, Shane O’Regan, Alex Panneton, Soren D’Alimonte, Jasmine Jones
Performers: Luciano Decicco, Mikayla Stradiotto, Michele Shuster, Dylan Corscadden, Rebecca Sellers, Ali Powell, Levi Stepp, Océane Kitura, Bohémier-Tootoo, Kenzie Drover, Timothy Harder, Alexander Batycki, Diego Terán, Jacques St-Pierre, Celeste Brillon, Eric Dahlinger, Jaden Kim