“Ten Cents a Dance” is, I’m sorry to report, a bust.
For 90 minutes, six talented performers, with the brilliant music/lyrics of Rodgers & Hart as their “script” (there’s no dialogue), do their best to make the evening work. Except for a very few minutes in the middle of the show, the entire enterprise evokes bewilderment, annoyance, tedium and, ultimately, great disappointment. How could the estimable WTF have gone so wrong?
The trouble begins immediately, when smartly dressed Johnny (Malcolm Gets) descends an enormous spiral staircase, landing in a kind of mausoleum of chairs, musical instruments and, one guesses, memories. For an intolerable length of time, Johnny walks around the basement, obviously distressed. The look on his face is the one he has for most of the show.
Miss Jones times five
‘Ten Cents a Dance’
WHERE: Main Stage, Williamstown Theatre Festival, 1000 Main St., Williamstown, Mass.
WHEN: Through Aug. 28
HOW MUCH: $63-$58
MORE INFO: 413-597-3400, www.wtfestival.org
A few notes of “Blue Moon” from the keyboard summon five women (Diana DiMarzio, Donna McKechnie, Lauren Molina, Jane Pfitsch and Jessica Tyler Wright) down that same staircase, this time with a bit more high-heeled clacking than before, and for the next hour-and-a-half, these characters inhabit the same space, communicating only with a look or a song by the aforementioned American masters.
The women, who are supposed to be five incarnations of the same woman, Miss Jones (lover, apparently), are dressed and coiffed unflatteringly. The floor-length floral gown suits none of them, and to have all of them dressed this way is a shame.
They, too, wander around the stage, their motivations unclear, pausing from time to time to pick up an instrument to accompany Johnny or the others. At this point I could think only of Celtic Woman, that group of singers/instrumentalists in light fabric who are equally spooky.
Action comes from a turntable, which allowed me (audience left) to confirm that it is, indeed, Gets who is playing the piano. Additional action occurs when Gets gets down and dirty by taking off his jacket and rolling up his sleeves and later — mirabile visu! — stripping to his undershirt. Mild tension erupts when the women threaten to exit entirely after the second episode by running en masse part way up the stairs. There are, however, three more episodes and an encore to go, so, of course, they change their collective mind and return to Johnny’s memory.
In Episode Three, called, for some reason, “Manhattan,” the show springs to life in half a dozen songs characterized by amusing staging or quick tempos: “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” “Sing for Your Supper,” “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “I Wish I Were in Love Again,” “It’s Got to Be Love,” and “To Keep My Love Alive.”
Then things go back to normal, which is to say, tiresome.
Audience shut out
How disappointing. Gets is a fabulous singer and pianist; the five women know how to put across a song and their instrumental playing is often more than creditable. And John Doyle, who conceived and directed the show, is a Tony Award winner, who has used this actor/singer/instrumentalist model to great effect in musicals like “Sweeney Todd” and “Company.” (Friends I saw after the show raved about those productions.)
Not here, however. The greatness of the songs aside, the whole evening feels hermetically sealed; that is, the audience is excluded and given no reason — or way in — to think or feel anything about what is happening on stage.