(Tom Gold and a stampede of brides in Makin’ Whoopee! from Susan Stroman’s Double Feature)
Thursday evening’s Double Feature, a full-length production choreographed by Susan Stroman, was much more fun that I had anticipated. It was also surprisingly charming and inventive. The piece was a tribute to silent films, with the first half – The Blue Necklace – presenting the melodrama, and the second half – Makin’ Whoopee! – supplying the laughs. It was not memorable for its choreography, but rather for being a completely unprecedented, original, and dazzling addition to New York City Ballet’s repertory.
The plots for both pieces reflected typical silent movie themes. The first was a Cinderella-like tale about a glamorous Hollywood star who abandons her illegitimate child at birth, while the second was a slapstick comedy about a haphazard lawyer who must marry by 7 PM on his birthday (which is, of course, that day) in order to earn his inheritance. Sara Mearns lent her old-fashioned glamour and acting abilities to the role of Dorothy Brooks in The Blue Necklace, clearly illustrating her character’s internal conflict about giving up her daughter, Mabel, for the sake of her career and reputation. Sterling Hyltin was an energetic Mabel, who is enchanted by the handsome movie star Billy Randolph, danced by Benjamin Millepied. When locked up at home by her cruel adoptive mother, Mrs. Griffith, Mabel dreamed up a pas de deux with Billy, and predictably, they finally met and truly danced together at Dorothy’s ball. The highlight of The Blue Necklace, however, was Megan Fairchild in the role of Florence, Mrs. Griffith’s clueless, dim-witted biological daughter. She was laugh-out-loud funny in her drunken duet with Billy Randolph, clumsily trying to keep up with him but failing miserably. Who knew that Fairchild, who is usually sharp and bright, could be so goofy and graceless? This was certainly the most memorable role I’ve seen her perform this season.
Tom Gold expertly portrayed the scattered but endearing Jimmie Shannon in Makin’ Whoopee! After failing four times to propose to his sweet girlfriend, Anne Windsor, Jimmie got some help from his lawyer pals, the lively duo of Amar Ramasar and Robbie Fairchild, in searching for a wife so that he could earn his seven million-dollar inheritance. He had little luck after meeting several women in the park, one of whom was Teresa Reichlen as the saucy Flossy. She wowed Jimmie and his pals with her long legs and sassiness, but her teasing abruptly ended when her macho husband, played by Justin Peck, appeared and whisked her away. Since the comedy wouldn’t be complete without a show-stopping ensemble scene, Jimmie was eventually chased by a stampede of brides (many of whom were hilariously portrayed by men) who were eager to marry Jimmie and get in on the cash. Of course, he finally realized that he truly loved Anne, and the two married in time for Jimmie to earn his millions, which literally rained down from the ceiling as the piece ended.
The music arrangements by Glen Kelly, lighting design by Mark Stanley, and glittering costumes by William Ivey Long played a major role in the success of Double Feature. But it was Ms. Stroman’s creativity and direction – and the dancers’ commitment to her ideas – that made this production a sheer delight.