Young Manic / I Wanted To Be On Broadway begins with the kind of dance that’s fallen out of fashion in Seattle’s contemporary scene—a hefty 12-person cast performing recognizable dance steps! Small groups of dancers weave in and out with jumps, turns, extended legs and rolls to the floor that fill the stage of Velocity Dance Center. The kaleidoscopic effect of coordinated action delights the eye but ultimately feels purposeless. Just when you think you’re in for a night of pleasing but mindless dance moves, director/choreographer Amy J Lambert delivers the punch line via dancers Taryn Collis and Joshua Williamson, left gasping on stage: “Oh man, oh my god that was hard. How many more times do we have to do that?” So begins an evening of self-referential humor and the clever undercutting of expectations.
Like many Broadway classics, Young Manic is a play within a play, or in this case, a dance within a dance. Collis and Williamson are choreographing a duet which they hilariously rehearse while chanting the images that help them remember each step: “Paula Abdul, Buns of Steel, Horses, Horses, but not Christmas Horses.” That storyline intertwines with a series of many small, unrelated comedic scenes: three dancers competing for the (literal) spotlight while singing overlapping musical-theater classics, 10 people trying to assist one person do a cartwheel.
The full-blown dance numbers are also infused with self-aware humor. A proud dancer points out her own exuberant shoulder to the audience as it bounces in time to the music. Three dancers stay too long in a dramatic rolling on the floor—their over-the-top anguished faces comedically undercut by perfectly timed unison log rolls. The music builds to a big finish as dancers perform intentionally underwhelming knee bends. It’s like watching the Saturday Night Live of dancing. Little sketches come and go and sometimes the transitions feel forced, but it’s forgivable because a little inorganic acting isn’t out of place in the show’s larger-than-life style.
To the trained eye, these contemporary dancers performing jazz dance lack some of the precision and sharpness that would elevate this performance to Broadway level, but because the piece is a parody that isn’t too off-putting. Perhaps the mixed skill-level cast reflects the ultimate unfulfilled dream the title implies—these are not gods of the Great White Way, but wannabes and underdogs. Even so, the ensemble includes a number of standout performers. Danica Bito’s passionate dancing, enormous facial expressions and superior singing make her a triple-threat well suited to the work. Charmaine Butcher’s dazzling presence on stage is only outmatched by her exquisite movement quality, a technical talent who shines equally in balletic sections, punchy jazz and goofball comedy. Drew Santoro has a number of memorable moments, including a grumpy dance with a toy tambourine that made me laugh the hardest of the whole night.
Young Manic is clever and entertaining, if not the most challenging or nuanced. The play on theater and dance tropes will be particularly satisfying to recovering high school thespian-types, but the jokes are recognizable enough for anyone to enjoy.
It’s not all fluff, however. That self-aware humor takes a turn when Collis’ character impressively speeds through a list of accomplished women from history, leading her to the realization that the dance she’s making doesn’t matter in the context of the weighty world. It’s a question that troubles many artists and isn’t answered satisfactorily here, except perhaps by the show itself. Young Manic is an hour of fun and lightness in a dark time, and seems to make a case for choosing joy and dreaming big—not out of naiveté, but in defiance.
Young Manic / I Wanted To Be On Broadway runs through Feb. 25 at Velocity Dance Center