Gotta Dance Makes All The Right Moves
The world-premiere engagement tells an inspiring story and delivers a powerful message
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WHEN the headline in a newspaper want ad screams “Seeking Seniors Over Sixty,” it’s likely to get its share of attention. But if you read further, you'll find the real eye-opener: “The New Jersey Cougars organization is putting together a dance squad to perform at halftime of all regular season NBA games. Applicants MUST BE OVER SIXTY!”
Gotta Dance, the pre-Broadway musical inspired by the real-life creation of the NBA’s New Jersey Nets’ senior dance squad, is a joyous, high-spirited presentation that captures the highs and lows of such an ambitious undertaking. Playing at the Bank of America Theatre through January 17, there’s something here for everybody––young and old––as the life lessons are inescapable.
The story surrounds 10 “amazing, brave, crazy-ass dancers” who survived auditions and are preparing for their first halftime performance in front of 20,000 screaming––and likely judgmental––fans. The group––at one time referred to as the “Nifty Shades of Grey”––shares an intense love for dance and are more familiar with swing, ballroom and anything Arthur Murray, but they get a real jolt when they are told they will be performing to hip-hop, something that’s totally foreign to each of them (except one).
While the five energetic (read: young) instructors prepare the squad for their big day, the personalities of each cast member evolves, bringing to the forefront some unexpected characterizations. The collection of talent is impressive, including Andre De Shields, a multiple Tony Award-nominee, who is the only man in the group, portraying a widower and lithe swing dancer who despises hip-hop; Stefanie Powers of TV’s Hart to Hart and The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. is a self-involved, bitter divorcée; noted singer-dancer Nancy Ticotin, who’s in a hot affair with her 25-year-old salsa partner; and Tony Award- and Emmy Award-winner Lillias White, who, while learning the dance routines, monitors the ongoing relationship between a married man and her granddaughter, who is one of the dance instructors. But it’s Georgia Engel who is the crowd favorite. Known for her memorable stints on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Everybody Loves Raymond, the soft-spoken, Emmy-nominated actress is the most unlikely to embrace hip-hop. Thanks, though, to her alter ego, Dorothy/Dottie, she is a walking book when it comes to Tupac, Biggie Smalls and Run DMC, and she sets the hip-hop record straight about the Sugar Hill Gang and Grandmaster Flash.
“On my bucket list was to do a Broadway musical . . . an original Broadway musical. I've done a lot of revivals in the West End in England, and I've performed on Broadway, but I've never done an original role in a musical. So all of that was attractive to me. "
–– Stefanie Powers
Gotta Dance, which is likely to hit Broadway this fall, benefits from the many talents of director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell, whose previous Broadway works include Tony Award-winner Kinky Boots and Gloria Estefan’s life story On Your Feet. Those productions left their marks on Broadway, and––based on initial reviews––Gotta Dance is likely to do so as well. “Gotta Dance is a metaphor for everything in life. Whatever it is you got to do in your life, there’s only one way to do it, and that is to do it,” says two-time Tony Award-winner Mitchell (Kinky Boots and La Cage aux Folles). “It’s about celebrating life, about getting up and joining in as opposed to sitting on the side. Gotta Dance is about saying ‘I can,’ and that’s inspiring.”
The musical––with a book by Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin, music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Nell Benjamin––is fast-paced and the laughs keep coming, but there are moments when it goes straight for the heart, most notably when two characters reveal how circumstances––due to death in one case and Alzheimer’s in the other––painfully robbed them of passionate, loving relationships too soon.
For the most part, though, Gotta Dance is an all-out romp, but it weaves in the message that, even in an ageist world, age alone never should determine someone’s boundaries. As Mitchell says: “Age is mind over matter––if you don’t mind, it don’t matter!”
Tickets for GOTTA DANCE at the Bank of America Theatre are on sale at various locations. Group tickets for 10 or more are available by calling Broadway In Chicago Group Sales at (312) 977-1710. Tickets are available at all Broadway In Chicago box offices (24 W. Randolph Street, 151 W. Randolph Street, 18 W. Monroe Street and 175 E. Chestnut), the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Line at (800) 775-2000, all Ticketmaster retail locations and online at www.BroadwayInChicago.com.
The senior dance group and their instructors go through a practice session in preparation for the group's halftime performance at an NBA game.
Nancy Ticotin and Stefanie Powers play characters who bring sass and selfishness, respectively.
Members of the original, real-life dance group attended the Chicago world premiere, including (left to right) Claire Gaines, Peggy Byrne, Betsy Walkup, Joe "B" Bianco, Edie Ollwerther and Deanna Schwartz. The cast (below) takes a bow during the curtain call on opening night.