Shadows, written by Randall David Cook (book) and Edison Woods, Maxim Moston and Karen Biskho (music and lyrics) and choreographed and directed by Joey McKneely, does tell a love story and does have a good deal of dancing, but the eerie romance doesn’t rise to the complex Gothic levels of Stephen King and the choreography is far less creative than Twyla Tharp’s.
Which is a shame since Shadows: A Dance Musical is staged rather extravagantly for an off-Broadway show. Sheryl Liu’s lush set depicts in great detail, a bedroom in a New York City apartment left undisturbed from an earlier era. A large bed dominates the gloomy room, with sturdy bookshelves, a large window, a dusty chandelier, a spooky grandfather clock and a portrait of a ballet dancer in a red tutu adding to the atmosphere of expectancy. The walls of the room are diaphanous, allowing for shadows of ghostly figures to play on its billows. All of this sets the mood for a drama that never quite materializes.
A pas de deux introducing the ghosts of Woman in Red (Irina Dvorovenko, of American Ballet Theatre fame) and the Man in Blue (Waldemar Quinones-Villanueva) accompanied by the song “Shadows of Love” (sung prettily by either Shara Nova or Julia Frodahl) opens Shadows on a pretty note. The dancers appear happy, but whether they were lovers or merely ballet partners isn’t made clear by the choreography until much later.
Claire (Janine DiVita, oozing sensuality and intelligence), the owner of the flat appears with real estate broker Alex aka Alexander aka Xander (John Arthur Greene, youthfully ardent, not to mention well built) hoping to sell this family legacy. Claire, who uses this New York apartment as a getaway from her boring domestic life in Connecticut, introduces Alex to the story of her grandmother with “Valentina,” a song that reveals her mysterious death, previewing the otherworldly events to come. (Valentina turns out to be the Woman in Red.)
Sure enough Claire and Alex, both married, fall into bed and begin a voluptuous affair, all the while haunted in not so subtle ways by the spirits that inhabit the apartment. These spirits for some reason are dead set against this affair, even causing a copy of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter to continually fly off the bookshelf at the couple enjoying themselves in bed—obvious, perhaps, but oddly witty. The ballet painting falls, the bed moves about by itself and other spooky things happen to the couple.
The two lovers offer a series of songs revealing the progress of their affair and later the end of their trysts when Alex makes the fatal decision to return to his wife.
Interspersed with the scenes of love and sex are longer and longer visions of the Woman in Red and the Man in Blue dancing prettily, while the Man in Black (Nickemil Concepcion, a vigorous dancer and good actor) and the Woman in Silver (Naomi Kakuk, dancing “ghostly” very well) seem to be evilly stalking the other two spirits.
Why they do this is gradually revealed in a series of overly melodramatically staged mime/dance sequences in which all the spirits re-enact their brutal deaths at the hands of one another, punishment for infidelity.
That last word reveals the reason behind the surreal attacks by the unfaithful spirits on the real-life lovers and leads Claire to an even more melodramatic act to insure her staying with Alex forever.
Shadows: A Dance Musical is old fashioned in so many ways, but not the good old fashioned. It is full of clichés that only an adventurous creative team could have overcome. The choreography sticks to the pretty classical ballet style as if the Woman in Red/Valentina spent her entire life on stage and everyone around her were her professional colleagues, rather than an artist suffering through a real life tragedy. The choreography needed more subtlety and drama rather than settling for merely pretty steps and silly mime. That all four dancers are terrific helped, but not enough to overcome the material they are given.
For those who have missed Ms. Dvorovenko, this is an opportunity to watch her unique artistry, underused, but still stunning.
Ms. DiVita and Mr. Greene are also fine actor/singers, mining all the depth they can find in the songs which too often resort to obvious rhymes and repetition. They also exhibit some dance talent at the very end of the play.
Christopher Vergara’s costumes, from the period garb of the ghosts to the contemporary outfits of the two lovers are colorful and character and period appropriate. Joe DeVico’s sound design helps establish the ambiance of the two worlds, the ghostly past and the passionate present. Brian Nason’s lighting is brilliant in its evocation of past and present.
Mr. McKneeley’s choreography is superficially balletic, but his direction keeps the show running and the performers, all fine, from over-acting.
Perhaps there is an involving dance musical to be found in this material, but Shadows isn’t it. The production is well-staged, but the material needs rethinking.
Shadows: A Dance Musical (through December 15, 2018)
Connelly Theater, 220 East 4th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.ShadowsDanceMusical.com
Running time: two hours including one intermission