Dancers Kick In To Light Up Broadway

High-energy shows like 'Footloose' and 'Fosse' razzle-dazzle 'em

"New" is not the word for the 1998-99 Broadway season. For the most part, the shows that light the lights are holdovers from previous years. Eighteen theaters house long-term tenants, from the perennial prowler "Cats" to last season's award-winning "The Lion King" and "Ragtime." And the shows coming in are mostly revivals or reworkings of past hits.

While there are nonmusicals on Broadway - "Art" and "The Beauty Queen of Leenane" (last season's best offerings) - dramas dominate off-Broadway. And the geographical boundaries are changing.

Off-Broadway theaters have been away from or on the edges of the Theater District. But now the Roundabout Theater fronts Times Square itself, and the Manhattan Theatre Club is presenting Terrence McNally's controversial play Corpus Christi in a basement space at City Center on West 55th Street. Visitors to New York will find it easier to seek out some of the smaller venues where many rewarding dramas can be found.

On Broadway this fall, however, spectacle and dance dominate. Two major newcomers are British choreographer Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake and Footloose, a musical based on the 1984 movie.

The surprise in this version of Swan Lake is casting the splendid winged birds as male instead of female, a stunning reversal of the traditional image of a fluttering, victimized Swan Queen and her followers.

Bourne's swans are aggressive and protective of their turf, wild and free. No wonder the prince becomes enthralled with them after he runs away from a loveless family life in the palace, bound by rules and tradition.

While the story is told by means of dance, the medium cannot be called ballet. Tchaikovsky's traditional score works beautifully with Bourne's use of contemporary dance movement - the physicality of sports, aerobics, and the martial arts - to express the aggressiveness and exuberance of the swans. Opulent club dancing suggests the decadence of the society in which the work takes place.

The swans are led by a superb dancer, Adam Cooper, double-cast with William Kemp, both trained at Britain's Royal Ballet School. (Mr. Cooper was also a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet.)

While there is more than a suggestion of sexual attraction between the swan and the prince (Ben Wright and Scott Ambler), it's a mistake to consider the undertaking from the viewpoint of gender. Part spectacle, part spoof on England's Royal Family and its problems, "Swan Lake" has been rethought in a fresh way to appeal to a wide audience.

A national tour for Bourne's marvelously imagined "Swan Lake" is under consideration, according to a spokesman for the producers.

'Footloose" is another revamping of a icon, in this case from pop culture, a new musical about teenagers who rebel against town authorities because dancing has been forbidden.

Dean Pitchford, lyricist and writer of the 1984 film, teams with Tom Snow, who wrote the music (including the pop favorites "Let's Hear It for the Boy" and "After All") and director Walter Bobbie to transform the story for the stage.

Already bearing obvious similarities to every high school musical ever written - think "Grease" and "Bye, Bye Birdie" - with its gangs of girl-ogling guys and nail-polishing teeny-boppers, "Footloose" adds to its problems by simplifying its characters and adding one-dimensional songs.

But "Footloose" boasts an appealing cast, led by Broadway's newest star, the young Canadian dancer Jeremy Kushnier. Bearing more than a passing resemblance to Kevin Bacon, who played the role in the movie, Kushnier displays impressive talent while fronting the dance numbers. Extravagant scenery by John Lee Beatty and lighting by Ken Billington feature motorcycles and a neon-clad hamburger palace, all amplified by the dj vu sounds of a rollicking rock 'n' roll score.

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