Saturday, February 16, 2013

"Lot of Living to Do" by ColliDe Theatrical Dance Company at the Southern Theater

I don't go to many dance performances, mostly because it's hard enough to stay on top of the incredible theater scene in the Twin Cities area. To be fully immersed in the theater and dance world would be too much for one person to handle. But occasionally I find myself at a dance show (typically one with theatrical connections), and I always love it. Dancing is a further extension of the core principle of musical theater - that when ideas and emotions cannot be expressed in mere words, music and movement are necessary to fully convey them. In ColliDe Theatrical Dance Company's original jazz dance musical Lot of Living to Do, a story is told through dance alone, without a single word of explanation (a story summary in the program helps set the stage). The talented troupe of dancers is accompanied by jazz standards performed by a fantastic three-piece band and two talented singers, all of which combines for a very entertaining evening.

ColliDe's mission is to partner artists with Minnesota charities to create new works, an admirable goal (I've always believed that theater has the power to change the world, a little at a time). In this case, the charitable partner is the Women's Foundation of Minnesota's campaign to end underage prostitution in Minnesota, called "MN Girls Are Not For Sale." It's unthinkable that this occurs right here in our fair state, something I wasn't really aware of before reading the literature for this show. In fact, the Twin Cities is one of the 13 largest centers for child prostitution in the country. But don't worry, Lot of Living to Do doesn't preach or hit you over the head with scary facts. It's a story about working girls in the 1930s and their problems and triumphs over them, as a subtle reminder that things aren't that different today. The story centers on teen-aged Jenny, abandoned at a brothel by her mother who can no longer support her. Jenny eventually finds a way to escape this life, with the support of the other women who are in too deep to see a way out for themselves.

Some highlights of the show:
  • I have to admit, one of the reasons why I wanted to see this show is to see one of my favorite musical theater actors, Jared Oxborough. Just after a successful run as Radames in Theater Latte Da's Aida, he channels Michael Buble on such classics as "The Best is Yet to Come," "Have You Met Miss Jones," and my theme song, "The Lady is a Tramp" (I get much too hungry to eat dinner at 8, I love the theater, but never come late, I never bother with people I hate). Jared also plays the role of a jerk of a john, and gets to kick up his heels a bit at the end.
  • Katie Gearty plays the brothel madam, the aforementioned Miss Jones, and lends her gorgeous jazzy voice to songs like "Nice Work if You Can Get It" and "Frankie and Johnny," all while presiding over the brothel and collecting money from her girls.
the light-on-his-feet (and hands) Galen Higgins
  • All of the dancers are so gorgeous performing the choreography of ColliDe Artistic Director Regina Peluso, a sort of Fosse-esque jazz style, sharp and yet loose at the same time, and very expressive of the high emotions of the characters. Standouts in the cast include Lauren Anderson, a fierce and powerful dancer, conveying strong emotion as the tough working girl Frankie. As Jenny's sweet boyfriend, Galen Higgins is incredibly light on his feet and expressive in every muscle of his body, from the tips of his toes to his open face. His dancing is so joyful, it's impossible not to smile while watching him.
  • The Southern Theater is a great place for dance, with its wide-open cavernous space, well-used by the dancers. A few set pieces, including a bar on the left, a small stage for the singers, and some tables in back, set the scene of a 1930s brothel while still leaving plenty of space for dance.
ColliDe Theatrical Dance Company beautifully tells this story in a fun and entertaining way. On the surface it's just a beautiful dance performance, until you see that it goes a little deeper than that. It's a great way to draw people in and inform them of a very real and serious problem, as well as offering a solution to that problem. In the real world, young girls need more than a cute bartender boyfriend to get them out of this terrible situation, which is where MN Girls Are Not For Sale comes in. See their website for more information on how to help in this worthwhile campaign, and go check out the show at the Southern (one performance Saturday night and two on Sunday) for an entertaining evening of jazz, music, vocals, and dance. Talented dancers, singers, and musicians, a captivating story, a great cause, and free drinks from sponsors Whiplash Wines and Stella Artois. What more can you ask for?