`Swing' needs a bit of a spring in its step

Review: It's a fun show, but as theater, `Forever Swing' doesn't quite fit the bill.

December 28, 2000|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

"Forever Swing" is a very enjoyable nightclub act. But in a theater, it's a club act trying to pass as a stage show.

The revue, which originated in Canada, capitalizes on the recent resurgence of interest in swing. It features a fine 13-piece onstage swing orchestra, four dancing couples, a trio of amazingly acrobatic young men called the Tic and Tac All Stars, several vocalists and, for some reason, a fire eater.

Fans of the big band sound will be gratified by familiar renditions of such chestnuts as Count Basie's "One O'Clock Jump" and Louis Prima's "Sing, Sing, Sing." And there's some first-rate musicianship, particularly on the part of band leader and trumpet player Gary Guthman and smooth vocalist Gabrielle Goodman (a Baltimore native and Peabody alum whose brother, David Alan Bunn, is the show's pianist and assistant music director).

The dancers are also perfectly acceptable, although their choreography lacks ingenuity and most of their athleticism pales in comparison to the gymnastic antics of the Tic and Tac All Stars (twins Kareem and Tyheem Barnes joined by Ivan Velez). These three daredevils have a repertory as original as the rest of the show is routine. All three comically flip-flop across the stage linked together like a flexible toy. One twin whirrs around like a propeller while balancing horizontally on his brother's head. And in a tour de force, Velez, who is also known as Flipz, becomes a human top, spinning at a prodigious rate while doing a scrunched-down headstand.

I'm not sure what these three have to do with swing. Some of their moves are pure break-dancing. I'm even less sure why the show includes a female fire eater, who wears a Cleopatra headdress and enters propped on a chaise longue carried by men in turbans.

What's missing is a unifying directorial vision, buttressed with more dancing and inventive choreography. In the first act, at least three numbers go by without a single dancer in sight. It doesn't help that the elaborate multi-level bandstand takes up most of the stage, leaving little room for much else. And though Goodman has a commanding presence, the show's other solo vocalists - especially low-key crooner Michael Buble - have considerably more difficulty holding the stage by themselves.

I'm not suggesting the show needs a plot. Judging from the range on stage, the simplest concept would be a period variety show. Instead, the revue's creators - Sam Lutfiyya and Dean Regan, who's also the director and choreographer - have come up with the flimsy conceit that we are seeing the fictional "Tommy Vickers Orchestra" on tour. This essentially means that signs occasionally descend to let us know we're in New Orleans' French Quarter, or "on the air" for a live World War II radio broadcast from the London Palladium.

"Forever Swing" is on a North American tour (the Lyric Opera House is its first stop), and its song list is in flux. Though the creative team is still making changes, I'm not sure the show can change enough to become a full-fledged theatrical presentation. As it stands now - and unfortunately, it stands more than it dances - "Forever Swing" is a sometime thing.

`Forever Swing'

Where: Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mt. Royal Ave.

When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday

Tickets: $37-$51

Call: 410-481-7328

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.