The Swing Era retold



Creator and director Dan Regan tried to pare down the script for the musical revue Forever Swing: Zoot Suit, believing that any words he needed were in the songs of that era.

While there is some setup, the stories in the revue -- opening Tuesday at the Lyric Opera House -- are largely told through a simple gesture, a meaningful look and other unspoken language.

"My style is kind of like music videos. Every number has a story to it. It's not written. It's choreographed, it's emotionalized," Regan explained.

When he was working on the concept for this show, Regan would listen to the bittersweet melody of a Frank Sinatra ballad or the frenetic energy of a Count Basie tune and instantly remember scenes of that time.

"During the war, life seemed on the edge. Anything could happen at any time," Regan said.

Regan saw that raw energy expressed in the dance halls he visited as a boy, where he would watch the fearless aerial moves of the dancers. It was important to him that the musical try to re-create the feeling of those clubs. The show focuses on the fictional Tommy Vickers Band, as the 13-member orchestra performs throughout the country and Europe. Regan wanted to show how each place was unique, how a club in the French Quarter would have had a different atmosphere from a USO show in London.

But the musical is far from a strict lesson in history, as three of the dancers -- Tic, Tac and Venom -- combine modern breakdancing tricks with traditional swing choreography. Regan said he included the three in the show because they captured the energy of the time, though they used the moves of today.

Besides, for Regan, part of the appeal of swing dancing is that it is open to improvisation and free from set patterns.

"It's so wild. In ballet, you do lifts and you do lots of spectacular things, but it's control. With swing dancing, you don't know what's going to happen," he said.

Regan did not hire Broadway-trained dancers, preferring to draw from talent he found in swing-dancing clubs across the United States and Canada. He felt that modern swing kids brought a naturalness to the show that could not be taught.

The five couples he selected for this tour will dance to swing standards such as "Begin the Beguine" and "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing."

Not wanting to clutter the dance performances with a forced storyline, Regan relied on the music to drive the show.

"That music reaches people. You'll see people tapping their toes and shaking their head, getting to their feet at the end of the piece. You know that they've had an experience," Regan said. "I can feel where [the audience's] emotions ar,e and I can expect where they'll be simply because the music affects me that way."

"Forever Swing: Zoot Suit" plays Tuesday through Nov. 27 at the Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave. Showtimes are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8 p.m., Fridays at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $29-$52.50. Call 410-547-SEAT or visit

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