Dance and romance reign supreme in In Your Arms, as thrilling an Old Globe World Premiere as I’ve seen in a good long while and one that most definitely deserves to be Broadway-bound.
Master musical theater tunesmith Stephen Flaherty’s gorgeous melodies form the backdrop for a dozen story-through-dance vignettes as imagined by quite possibly the most illustriously award-winning collection of writers—Douglas Carter Beane, Nilo Cruz, Christopher Durang, Carrie Fisher, David Henry Hwang, Rajiv Joseph, Terrence McNally, Marsha Norman, Lynn Nottage and Alfred Uhry—ever assembled for a single show.
Still, these Tony-Pulitzer-Obie-Oscar-Peabody Award winners’ playlets are but the framework for choreographer-director Christopher Gattelli and some of the world’s finest dance talents to make magic over and over again on the Donald And Darlene Shiley Stage.
From ballet to flamenco to tango to martial arts to jazz to ballroom (flavored with African and Asian and French and Latin American spices), In Your Arms tells tale after tale-as-old-as-time (or at least as old as the production’s Romeo And Juliet “Prologue”).
It would take too long to describe each and every sequence, but here are just a few of the evening’s highlights: Uhry’s “Love With The Top Down,” romance at its 1950s innocent/sexually repressed; Cruz’s “The Lover’s Jacket,” a tale of love and loss at a time of political repression in Spain; and Joseph’s “Intergalactic Planetary” with its doomed human-meets-extraterrestrial love affair.
Durang’s “The Dance Contest” imagines Soviet-American romance on the competitive dance floor at the height of Iron Curtain tensions; Fisher’s “Lowdown Messy Shame” features a Princess Leia-bunned Fisher typing out a story whose American-In-Paris-like characters decide take on a life of their own; and Bean’s “Artists And Models, 1929” takes a silent-movie approach to man-on-man love at a time when it was verboten.
There’s not a less-than-exquisite link in the cast of young artists imported from New York for this World Premiere dance/romance extravaganza, from Marija Juliette Abney to Stephen Bienskie to Henry Byalikov to Claire Camp to Spencer Clark to Jeremy Davis to Jenn Harris to Glenda Sol Koeraus to Jess LeProtto to Adesola Osakalumi to Karine Plantadit to Hayley Podschun to Jonathan Sharp to Ryan Steele to Brendon Stimson to Alex Michael Stoll to Samantha Sturm to Oscar Valero to Erica Wong to Lyrica Woodruff.
A Chorus Line’s very first Cassie, Donna McKechnie, bookmarks In Your Arms as a woman of a certain age recalling her own long lost love and singing the show’s title song—lyrics by longtime Flaherty collaborator Lynn Ahrens—in a voice that makes it clear that it’s not just McKechnie’s dancing that made her a Broadway star.
Finally, there is 1960 Oscar-winning Best Supporting Actor George Chakiris joining McKechnie for McNally’s “Sand Dancing,” and though West Side Story’s Bernardo does only a bit of dancing, seeing the still handsome, still limber-at-81 Chakiris onstage is icing on an already scrumptious dance feast.
Scenic designer Derek McLane and projection designer Olivia Sebesky join creative forces to back each dance sequence with a stunning backdrop that would do the Impressionists proud. Jess Goldstein’s eclectic collection of costumes could not be more stunning, nor could Donald Holder’s lighting design, Peter Hylenski’s sound design, Michael Starobin’s orchestrations, or Larry Reed/ShadowLight’s shadow sequence design. Musical director Steven Malone conducts In Your Arms’ Broadway caliber pit orchestra.
It’s been fifteen years now since Contact won the Best Musical Tony, the last time an all-dance musical won Broadway’s biggest honor, and though I’d be going a bit too far out on a limb to predict that In Your Arms could (excuse the pun) follow in Contact’s footsteps, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see it a front-runner.
Broadway producers. The next step is up to you.
Donald And Darlene Shiley Stage, Old Globe Theatre, Balboa Park, San Diego.
September 27, 2105
Photos: Carol Rosegg
Tags: Alfred Uhry, Carrie Fisher, Christopher Durang, Christopher Gattelli, David Henry Hwang, Donna McKechnie, Douglas Carter Beane, George Chakiris, Lynn Ahrens, Lynn Nottage, Marsha Norman, Nilo Cruz, Rajiv Joseph, San Diego County Theater Review, Stephen Flaherty, Terrence McNally, The Old Globe