Theater Review: 'Contact' uniquely lights up the stage with passion and flair

We often rely on our vocal capabilities to express our fears, feelings and emotions. In the musical “”Contact,”” however, verbal communication takes a backseat while the artistic form of dance conveys the performers’ thoughts and desires. The self-labeled “”new kind of musical”” offers a fresh kind of theater through innovative choreography and sexy themes.

Courtesy of Broadway
San Diego

In this musical, despair, illusion and renewal are all played out through the common language of dance in three separate, short stories. Although all three acts differ in style, music and choreography, they match in resonance to suit each other thematically.

Almost everything, from the dance styles to the soundtrack (yes, I did say soundtrack), is unique in “”Contact.”” There is an eclectic mix of both music and dance that brings a welcome change to the usual musical.

Don’t expect an original score because all the music is pre-recorded, but what a wide and interesting range of music it is. The score is perfectly timed with creative and addictive dance steps, resulting in a simple yet effective tone and look. From Tchaikovsky to Dean Martin to Robert Palmer, the music complements the great choreography of Susan Stroman (“”The Music Man,”” “”Crazy For You.””)

The first act, “”Swinging,”” is set in 1767 and deals with love between an aristocrat, his lady and a servant. Only three actors dance the entire time and the set itself is minimal. With its simplicity, the first act establishes the tone of “”Contact.”” No words are spoken and only one song is played, leaving the audience free to focus on the light, airy grace of the dancing. The mood is light, but also racy and full of sexual innuendo. In terms of story, “”Swinging”” is too full of fluff, leaving the viewer wanting more.

“”Did You Move?”” is the title of the second set, which takes place in a ’50s restaurant in Queens. This act depicts the life of a lonely woman (Meg Howrey) who endures an ill-tempered, abusive husband. Once again, dialogue is minimal because the housewife expresses her comedic desires through dance alone, allowing everyone to become a part of the her romantic and comedic fantasies. The housewife’s airy yet fragile hopes can be seen as her sophomoric, naive leaps and jumps manifest her desire for a new life.

The last portion of the play is also the best and most emotional. In this modern-day act, a suicidal advertising agent named Michael Wiley (Alan Campbell) is at a crossroad in his empty life. Wandering through Manhattan, he drifts into a night club where he meets a lady of intrigue and mystery: the woman in the yellow dress (Holly Cruikshank.) A metaphor for the quality of the entire production, the yellow dress is sexy and full of life.

What defines the last act is the brilliance and radiance of the enigmatic woman, who elevates the entire cast’s performance. Cruikshank’s dramatic performance is full of an energy, and her devilish charm is embodied in her infamous and mesmerizing yellow dress.

The third act provides the most “”meat”” in plot and substance, dealing with such dark subjects as depression and suicide, which are in turn counteracted with hope, renewal and love. As Wiley tries to win the affection of the woman in the yellow dress, swing dances exemplify what “”Contact”” is all about: passion.

Even for those not familiar with theater or dance, “”Contact”” is a simplistic yet moving series of performances that should not be missed. In essence, “”Contact”” is more than great dancing: It is the expression of love and hope.

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