By Chris Heide
The 5th Ave Theatre has a long tradition of cultivating new musicals, some of which eventually end up on Broadway. According to Bernadine Griffin, Managing Director, approximately 20 original musical have been created at the 5th Avenue Theatre. Marie Dancing Still is just the most recent iteration.
Marie Dancing Still is very clearly a work in progress. Although the musical is good, not outstanding, it does have a lot of potential. The story depicts the relationships between a young dancer named Marie and her unusual friendship with an old, eccentric miser named Degas.
Before getting into the strengths of the show, let's talk about what doesn't work. At nearly three hours long, Marie Dancing Still is simply too long. A good half hour should be cut from the show. The story is also filled with subplots that do nothing to enhance the overall thematic message of the story; plots that see to have no real point or payoff. The shoehorned plotlines include Marie’s mother’s alcoholism, a vaguely referenced history of domestic violence in Marie’s family, or Marie’s older sister’s status as as a pseudo sex-worker. None of the back stories are fully flushed out. It feels as if they have been inserted into the story for the sake of melodrama, rather than character development. Adding so many heavy storylines into a show is always a risk (something that Dear Evan Hansen pulls off with much greater effectiveness and success). It is difficult to integrate so many controversial elements into a thematic whole that elevates the show, rather than dragging it down.
The show also had way too many #MeToo moments that seem culturally tone deaf. The relationship between Degas and Marie has inappropriately sexual, and sometimes physically violent, undersones (remember, she is a teengaer and he is and elderly man). There are many scenes of older men leering at the younger dancers in the show. Essentially, there are a whole lot of turn-of-the century #MeToo issues sprinkled into the plot that are often uncomfortable to watch. The whole narrative arch for Marie is that of a young woman who overcomes adversity and challenges society's conception of what a young dancer should be. All off the additional, sensational plot points could be removed and the strength of Marie’s character arch would be just the same.
However, despite those opportunities for improvement, Marie Dancing Still is still a good show with a tremendous amount of potential. Many of the elements of the show are outstanding, such as the infusion of classic ballet into the choreography, the inventive staging, the lush scenery, and the brilliant casting of Broadway veterans into some of the key roles. One of the standouts of the show is Tiler Peck, an award-winning Principle dancer with the New York City Ballet. Peck plays the titular role of Marie with tremendous spunk and is by-far the most technically proficient dancer in the show.
Another standout of the show comes late in the second act. It is a ten-minute recap of the entire plot of the show, danced without any dialogue. It is a beautiful executed and brilliantly choreographed, highly reminiscent of An American in Paris. It is in this scene that the entire musical demonstores is lofty potential.
Overall, Marie Dancing Still has many elements in play that could make it Tony Award winning musical. The book needs to be cleaned up, some plotlines need to be dropped, and some of the meatier vocal roles should be cast with actors who have unstoppable vocal range. One of the exciting elements of this show is that it is so raw and capable- it is the epitome of the creativity and brilliance of the genre of musical theatre.