Wednesday, July 30, 2008


If you like “Dancing with the Stars,” particularly the segments when the dance instructors dance with each other, you’re gonna love “Swing,” making its Music Circus debut this week. It’s just under two hours of nonstop singing and dancing with no dialog, no story line, no message, just high energy dancing and singing, an homage to the legends of the Big Band era, the music of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman and Harry James, along with some contemporary music with that 40s feel.

If you’re looking to be dazzled by footwork, flips, and other dance moves we might see in dance competitions, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re looking for more traditional “musical theater,” perhaps not so much so. The Music Circus crowd went wild for the hard-working company, but I also noticed that many people around us left at intermission. In truth, if I had not been there to review the show, I might have been tempted to leave myself, feeling that the second act was going to be just more of the same. But in the end, I was glad that I stayed, because there was some pretty good stuff in Act 2.

The cast of “Swing!” includes members of the Broadway cast and first national touring company, as well as professional ballroom dance competitors. The cast of four singers and 12 dancers includes Kirby Ward, a Music Circus veteran who also starred as song and dance men on the Broadway Sacramento Stage in “Crazy for You” and “Showboat.” Also appearing are singers Stacia Fernandez (Broadway cast), Julie Tolivar, Maceo Oliver and dancers Mark Stuart Eckstein (U.S. and Japanese tours), Beverly Durand (original Broadway cast), Paul Romero Jr., Sarah Marie Jenkins (U.S. and Japanese tours), Chris Saunders, Adealani Malia, Michael Jagger, Evita Arce, Christopher Beroiz, Desiree Duarte (original Broadway cast) and Lori Barber. The production is directed and choreographed by Dana Solimando, herself a member of the Broadway cast of “Swing!”

There is also an eight piece band – Mike McMullen, Mark Tulga (woodwinds), Larry Lunetta (trumpet), Chip Tingle (trombone), Darryl Archibald (keyboard), Tom Phillips (guitar), Steve Comber (bass) and Stan Lunetta (drums), several of whom walk up out of the orchestra pit at various points in the show to interact with the dancers. If you’ve never thought of a bass or a trombone as sensual instruments, you’ll be surprised!

Kirby Ward opens the show, with solo guitar, soon to be joined by all the company in a rousing “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got that Swing” (reminiscent of many years of enjoyment from Davis High Jazz Choir performances!)

Foremost among the outstanding numbers was Julie Tolivar’s “Cry Me a River,” sung in duet with trombonist Chip Tingle, where Tolivar matched the wah-wah of the trombone perfectly.

Tolivar also displays her vocal versatility in “Two and Four,” where she sings in her operetta voice until, with the help of Ward, she unleashes her inner swing personality.

Stacia Fernandez and Maceo Oliver do an entire dating scene singing in only scat, in “Bli-Blip.”

(As an aside, Mr. Oliver is in desperate need of a dresser. Costumes by David Draper were overall outstanding, but Oliver’s first brown suit appeared to have pockets stuffed with things, giving the pants a very messy look. I expected something magical to emerge from the pockets, but nothing ever did. The collar of his pink shirt in a later scene was not turned down properly but bunched awkwardly on his right shoulder, and the contrast with the neat appearance of the dark suit was very distracting. And the white bow tie in the tuxedo he wore for the finale rested at a rakish angle on the side of his neck, rather than at the Adam’s apple line.)

The entire cast joined for a section called “The USO,” which closed out the first act. Each of the dancing pairs had a chance to shine in one number, and they all joined together for “In the Mood” / “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.”

“Take Me Back to Tulsa,” by Oliver with the company introduced a western section of the program, which included an updated countrified version of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”

Sarah Marie Jenkins and Paul Romero Jr. were very cute in “Dancers in Love.”

Things come to a crescendo with Stacia Fernandez’s “Stomping at the Savoy,” followed by the entire company in “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing”)

This is definitely an enjoyable evening of entertainment, but if you prefer your musical theater with more of a plot to involve yourself in, this may not be the show for you.

But it's all about good, old fashioned fun. With its high energy, great music and terrific choreography, “Swing!” can’t help but put a tap in the toe of the most dour curmudgeon.

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