Cate Caplin’s exciting, eclectic choreography and some terrific dance performances from students enrolled in LACC’s Theatre Academy make Deborah Lawlor’s 55-minute look back at largely forgotten mid-20th-century dance icon Freddy Herko worth checking out despite stilted dialog that would challenge even the most accomplished cast.

It’s the beginning of the swinging psychedelic pansexual ‘60s and Andy Warhol’s Factory is the place to be if you’re one of New York’s most glamorous and fascinating, and no one was more glamorous or fascinating than Freddy Herko (Marty Dew), especially for a newlywed fresh out of Bennington College with a dream to dance and a husband loyal to a fault but unable to stand comparison with the electrifying Freddy.

The young woman in question is Lawlor stand-in Shelley, whose older self (Susan Wilder) recalls Past Shelley’s (Katie McConaughy) abandonment of hearth and home for sex, drugs, and ballet.

As the magical, gorgeous, part-Russian Freddy choreographs his aspiring dancers’ moves “like an act of worship,” flashbacks reveal a childhood spent with a father who believed “dance is for faggots,” beat his son for insisting on pursuing his passion, and ended up never speaking to him again.

Not that Freddy’s dad was wrong about his preteen’s budding sexual orientation, though that didn’t stop Shelley from turning one particular evening of private rehearsals into a night of passionate lovemaking before Freddy left her for some raw man-on-man sex on the street.

With memories like these, Fountain Theatre co-artistic director Lawlor clearly has stories to tell, from Freddy and Shelley’s first meeting to the moment he plummeted five stories to his death at twenty-eight, but it’s Herko’s dance brilliance and Caplin’s reimagining of it (no film footage exists of the dancer in flight) that makes Lawlor’s World Premiere one-act memorable, particularly as brought to charismatic life by the equal parts hunky-athletic-graceful Dew.

Unfortunately, rote line readings punctuated by unnecessary pauses detract from what otherwise would be a completely captivating lead performance, but dance Dew most certainly can, and his LACC castmates are no slouches in that department either.

Alexandra Fiallos (Baby Jane), Jamal Hopes (Johnny), Tristen Kim, Jacqueline Mohr (Diane), Lamont Oakley (Pete), Connor Clark Pascale (Billy), Justice Quinn (Ondine), Savannah Rutledge (Arione), Brianna Saranchock, Trenton Tabak, and Jesse Trout (Rita) prove themselves more than up to Caplin’s choreographic demands, whether balletic or modern or a combination of both, with special snaps to Kim’s appealing fairytale prince, danced solo and in tandem with Dew.

As the older Shelley, Wilder does the evening’s most accomplished acting in addition to showing off the grace of a trained dancer. Busy SoCal musical theater performer McConaughy demonstrates her dance expertise as well, and a sequence that has one Shelley mirroring the other is particularly memorable. Mel England completes the as Freddy’s mentor Jimmy Waring, increasingly troubled by his protégé’s addition to speed.

Director Frances Loy, working alongside Caplin, makes imaginative use of scenic designer Tesshi Nakagawa’s ingenious multilevel set, gorgeously lit by Derek Jones, whose projection design features a stunning prerecored shadow play to back up Freddy’s memories of childhood abuse.

Jillian Ross’s ab-fab costumes range from groovy ‘60s wear to storybook ballet, many of them allowing male cast members to reveal bare dance-toned torsos, bodies meshing with hardly a heterosexual coupling in sight.

Sound designer Vern Yomemura integrates classical music with ‘60s hits as Amrit Samra completes a first-rate production design with some pitch-perfect period props.

Jasmine Kalra is stage manager. Freddy is produced for the Los Angeles City College Theatre Academy by Leslie Ferreira and Louie Piday and for The Fountain Theatre by James Bennett, Stephen Sachs, and Simon Levy.

More nuanced dialog and acting would elevate Freddy to must-see status. Go just for the dance and you won’t be disappointed.

follow on twitter small

Caminito Theatre, Los Angeles City College, 855 N Vermont Ave., Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
September 27, 2017
Photos: Ed Krieger

Tags: , , , ,

Comments are closed.