An Eye-Tickling, Ear-Pleasing Evening
By Geary Danihy
Sated (and perhaps a bit depressed) by the angst and anxiety in many current Connecticut theatrical productions? Yearning for a bit of escape? Well, you couldn’t do better than wend your way up to Playhouse on Park in West Hartford where “Rockin’ the Forest” is on the boards through April 9. This winsome, frolicsome exercise in song and dance won’t challenge your theater-going mentality, but it will satisfy on multiple levels, especially if you thrill to the sound of tapping feet.
“Rockin’ the Forest” is a stop/time Dance Theater production, which serendipitously found a home at Playhouse on Park over a decade ago. The “child” of choreographer Darlene Zoller (she is a co-founder of Playhouse on Park), stop/time features 15 dancers who by day are engaged in other pursuits but by night are consumed by the “Gotta dance!” mantra. In other words, they’re not necessarily pursuing a career or a paycheck via Terpsichore, they’re pursuing what they love to do...and it shows. In the program bios, one dancer has written that she “loves to dance -- plain and simple.”
The book (such as it is) for the show finds Little Red Riding Hood (an engaging, multi-talented Victoria Mooney) lost in the proverbial woods. Soon she is confronted by the Wolf (Rick Fountain), who once was a star on Broadway but, alas, has been cursed (due to his philandering) to wander the forest in his present lupine form. She also encounters a Broadway producer (don’t demand logic -- just accept it) who wishes to cast Miss Riding Hood in a show. Some may find it a silly premise, but these are the same people who won’t clap to bring Tinker Bell back to life.
Conceived, directed and choreographed by Zoller, with musical direction by Eric Larivee (who also tinkles the ivories in the six-piece orchestra), this exercise in song and dance draws on multiple references to Hollywood movies, Broadway shows and pop and Rock songs going back to the 60s, which is part of its charm. It also covers multiple dance forms, from interpretive and ballet to the tap-intensive, synchronous Broadway chorus line (the only thing missing is a dance-number allusion to “River Dance”). In other words, it’s an engaging mash-up.
Favorite numbers that tickled my fancy? Well, when the Wolf first meets Miss Hood he sings “L’il Red Riding Hood,” (do you remember Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs?). Then there’s “On Broadway” and a rewriting of “American Pie.” And how about the “Lip Sync Battle” between the three bears and the three little pigs? Mooney nails “Lotta Livin’ To Do” (from “Bye Bye Birdie”) and the First Act ends with a production number, “I Can’t Be Bothered Now,” that’s a tap extravaganza.
Special mention should be made of costumer Lisa Steier’s efforts. There are just about as many costume changes as there are musical numbers (the dressing room must be a scene of controlled chaos), and the costumes are dead-on to support said numbers, especially in the Second-Act opening number, “Some Day My Prince Will Come,” with Snow White (Meredith Atkinson) complete with a little bird on her wrist to gladden her heart. It’s an impressive effort.
There were a number of children in the audience on opening night (attendance only hampered by the threat of sleet, snow and the wrath of March), and this is appropriate, for if you have a budding dancer, singer or thespian in your house, then I urge you to bring them to Playhouse on Park (perhaps bribing them with the offer of an ice cream sundae at next door’s A. C Petersen Farms Restaurant). They will be entranced, as will you if you are young at heart. At intermission, a woman spoke to one of the ushers: “I use to tap dance...not well...when I was young. I’m impressed.” You will be too, and you’ll leave the theater with a smile on your face.
“Rockin’ the Forest” runs through April 9. For tickets or more information call 860-523-5900, X10, or go to www.playhouseonpark.org