Bebop music has the whole place jumping

Review: The performers in `Swing!" just want to have fun, and consequently, the audience does, too.

March 15, 2001|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

The continental United States is divided into four time zones, but the Mechanic Theatre is in a zone of its own this week - "Swing!" time.

In this zone, time can be fast, slow, sultry or hoppin', but whatever the pace, the purpose is the same - a good time. A big-band, jitterbugging Broadway revue, "Swing!" is the third show about the retro dance craze to hit Baltimore stages this season. It has slick musicianship, virtuoso dancing, clever staging and smooth singing.

If you're a swing fan, it'll be the cat's pajamas. If not, there's at least one number that's guaranteed to get you smiling - a song called "Bill's Bounce." It features two female dancers (Dana Solimando and Carrie Helms) springing through the air on bungee cords attached to harnesses circling their waists. Although much of director/choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett's inventive dances features lifts and aerials, in this case the dancers truly take flight, doing splits, spins and leaps while boing-ing from floor to ceiling.

And that's hardly the only imaginative bit in the show. For Earl H. Hagen's "Harlem Nocturne," double bass player Greg Fiellin stands front and center strumming, when a woman's arm suddenly emerges seductively from behind the instrument. The violin family bears a decided resemblance to the female physique, as the artist Man Ray acknowledged in a famous photo. In this case, when dancer Kim Craven pops out from behind Fiellin's bass, she's wearing a gold velvet jumpsuit whose front is decorated with two large f-holes. In other words, she's a human bass fiddle.

Singer Sarah Jane Nelson has a similar relationship with an instrument in Arthur Hamilton's "Cry Me a River," which she sings to trombone player Jonathan Arons, who answers back on the trombone, until she eventually pulls him across the stage by the instrument's slide.

Several numbers depart from standard interpretations, chief among them the swing classic "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," which is performed by three men in business suits. And two songs sung by smoky-voiced Ann Crumb, "I'll Be Seeing You" and "Blues in the Night," are interpreted by pairs of dancers whose choreography owes more to ballet and modern dance than swing.

But when the dancers break into full swing mode, there are some tour-de-force moves. In "Throw That Girl Around," one of several numbers written for the show, two couples engage in a flashy swing duel.

Marielys Molina somersaults down the front of her partner (Warren Adams), while silver-clad Solimando slithers around, over, and under partner Bruce Lineberry as if she were made of mercury.

Besides the bass fiddle jumpsuit, William Ivey Long has designed other witty costumes, including two dresses that with a pull and a tug are transformed into other styles, and in one instance, another color.

Structurally, the revue is a mix of dance numbers, songs and novelty bits. Only once - during Nelson's static delivery of Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer's "Skylark" - does the hipness grind to a halt.

For the most part, however, the feeling of the show is summed up in a lyric from "Throw That Girl Around."

"I just wanna have some fun," sings Alan H. Green. He and the rest of the cast do just that, and their joyful spirit spreads into the audience.

`Swing!'

Where: Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, 25 Hopkins Plaza

When: 8 p.m. tonight-Friday; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $21.50-$69

Call: 410-752-1200

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