Romantic odyssey of an Englishwoman -- in song and dance Song and Dance Musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Don Black (lyrics). American adaptation, additional lyrics, and direction by Richard Maltby Jr. Choreographed by Peter Martins. Starring Bernadette Peters.
New York — To risk a contradiction in terms, ``Song and Dance,'' at the Royale Theatre, is an intimate spectacular. Musically the two-part entertainment comprises a superb Andrew Lloyd Webber score plus 23 Lloyd Webber variations on a Paganini theme. Choreographically, it marks the Broadway debut of Peter Martins, ballet master in chief of the New York City Ballet. Mr. Martins joins the select line of crossover choreographers that have included Balanchine, de Mille, and Robbins. With Bernadette Peters soloing in a tour de force performance in Part I and Christopher d'Amboise leading the dance ensemble in Part II, ``Song and Dance'' is an Anglo-American treat.
Richard Maltby Jr. has reshaped and adapted the London hit for American audiences, written some new lyrics, and supplied the admirable staging. There is one new song, ``English Girls,'' in which Emma (Miss Peters) sashays wickedly about the stage as she expounds on the advantages of beautifully clipped speech in the purlieus of Los Angeles. Luxuriating in the pool of her current boyfriend (who is making a movie musical about Rommel's boyhood), Emma sings about ``Capped Teeth and Caesar Salad,'' ending w ith the ``have-a-nice-day'' refrain that has become a clich'e.
Mainly, however, the first act of ``Song and Dance'' is the ruefully humorous and often melancholy account of Emma's romantic odyssey in the USA. She lands at Kennedy Airport under a starry sky, looking terribly King's Road with her frizzy hair and mod get-up, ready to conquer a continent and, not least of all, achieve the green card that will permit her to earn her living. Emma's love affairs are consistently short lived, ending in partings seldom softened by sweet sorrow. Meanwhile, in periodic letter s home, Emma tells all -- well, nearly all -- to her dear old mum. Emma's success as a milliner (with the imaginative help of costumer Willa Kim) results in some outrageously fanciful creations -- though they won't necessarily bring back women's hats.
At moments near the end of the first act one began to wonder whether either Mr. Lloyd Webber or Miss Peters would be able to sustain the rising emotional intensity of Emma's hurt. Not to worry. The composer knows whereof he composes, and Miss Peters belts out Emma's mounting disillusionment with heart-tearing expressiveness. For melting tenderness, however, there is nothing to top ``Tell Me on a Sunday'' (which got an ovation at the preview I attended) or ``Unexpected Song.'' Though characteristically rock oriented, the score ranges from Latin rhythms to zippy razzmatazz, with Don Black lyrics to match.
``Song and Dance'' relegates Emma to the wings for most of the second act, while Mr. d'Amboise and his eight fellow dancers take the stage. And take it they do. Wearing the blazing red windbreaker that provides the link to Emma and the romance it symbolized, Joe (d'Amboise) portrays the personable odd man out, the tentative seeker for companionship. Alternately accepted and rejected by the other dancers, Joe pursues his hopes and d'Amboise embodies them with elegant style and wonderful grace, occasional ly partnering Charlotte d'Amboise and Cynthia Onrubia.
At one point, the noise of tapping is heard from the wings and two tap shoes are tossed onto the stage. They are followed by the entrance of Gregg Burge, who gives Joe a quick and dazzling course in intricate terpsichore. By the time the reentering, now gray-suited ensemble has strutted to Wall Street -- just one of Robin Wagner's magical settings -- the whole company is dancing up a storm. The hallmark of Martins's choreography is a kind of heart-lifting jubilation, whether the expression is balletic,
acrobatic, or just plain funky. The final resolution brings back Emma, who falls into step. Naturally. Meanwhile, Paganini has never had such a workout.
To mention other principal credits, ``Song and Dance'' was orchestrated by Lloyd Webber and David Cullen. The superb musical supervision and direction are by John Mauceri.
So . . . have a nice day. And should you be fortunate enough to lay hands on a pair of tickets to ``Song and Dance,'' have a great night out. Autumn's first musical inspires visions of next spring's Tony Award nominations.