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‘Little Dancer’ at The Kennedy Center

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Little Dancer Offers a Glorious, Unique Addition to the World of Musical Theater

Little Dancer is sheer perfection for ballet and musical theater fans alike – enchanting dancing, a glorious score, and a haunting, and memorable original book.

Boyd Gaines and Tiler Peck. Photo by  Paul Kolnik.

Boyd Gaines and Tiler Peck. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

That rarity in these days of Hollywood spinoffs – an original musical – The Kennedy Center’s mesmerizing and brilliant Little Dancer examines the ties between and Marie van Goethem, the young, relatively obscure young ballerina who became the model for his most controversial and enduring work, the sculpture titled “Little Dancer Aged 14.”

The Tony Award-winning songwriting team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime, Seussical, Rocky) have struck gold with this wonderfully original work that defies genres, offering up a tender and touching work with multilayered characters. The beautiful Little Dancer score is truly some of the best work in their impressive and extensive canon.

Rebecca Luker. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Rebecca Luker. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Director/Choreographer Susan Stroman, a five-time Tony Award winner for such Broadway hits as Contact and The Producers, crafts a work that beautifully bridges the worlds of ballet and musical theater, creating a unique and powerful work that is visually stunning and emotionally satisfying. The opening number – “C’est Les Ballet”– is truly gorgeous, while the second act dream ballet that envisions the missing pieces in Marie’s history is unlike anything seen on a Broadway stage today.

New York City Ballet principal dancer Tiler Peck, who plays Degas’ model Marie van Goethem, is gorgeous, charismatic, and downright charming in the title role. In a role that is both physical and emotionally demanding, Peck shows her star power, more than holding her own in a cast glittering with Tony nominees and award winners. Her dancing, of course, is spectacular, but Peck is a triple threat performer who has created a wonderfully human and rebellious character who literally steals the stage (and everything on it) each time she dons her pointe shoes, and steals the show during ‘The Little Dancer Ballet.”

As the adult Marie van Goethem, three-time Tony Award nominee Rebecca Luker has never sounded better. Her velvety voice gives depth and dimension to the music as she does justice to such numbers as “What You Made Of Me” and “Looking Back at Myself.”

Four-time Tony Award winner Boyd Gaines turns in a virtuoso performance as Edgar Degas. He deftly conveys the passions of an artist driven to create something real and lasting, and his “In Between” is a wonderful tribute to all of the complex reasons that drive his selection of Marie as the model for what ends up being his most enduring sculpture. Gaines’ performance is driven and passionate and inspiring.

Tony Award winner Karen Ziemba turns in a sharply etched and edgy performance as the alcoholic and abusive mother, Martine. Kyle Harris is charming as Peck’s love interest and partner-in-crime, Christian, showing off some wonderful flirtatious chemistry in “Musicians and Dancers and Fools.” Sophia Anne Caruso shines as Marie’s younger sister, Charlotte, particularly with her clear vocals in the haunting “Ballerina” and her duet with Peck in “Little Hole in the Wall.” Janet Dickinson is delightfully acerbic as Mary Cassatt.

Jenny Powers and Sean Martin Hingston are infectiously charismatic in “Little Opportunities” as Marie’s sister, Antoinette and her lover, Philippe. The joy of dance is evident at all levels of this cast – and special praise goes to the lovely and incredibly talented ensemble, who perform Stroman’s choreography with such precision, grace, and emotion. The little rats, in particular, Jolina Javier, Polly Baird, Lyrica Woodruff, and Juliet Doherty, distinguish themselves throughout the show.

Little Dancer demonstrates the magic that happens when every member of the cast and creative team is passionately committed to a project. The ingenious use of projections (creatively designed by Benjamin Pearcy) and the way the creative team elects to frame the production in a stunning gold frame enhances the illusion of Degas’ Impressionistic/post-impressionistic world. With flawless timing, the choreographed sets revolve, slide, and change to the beautiful strains of a lovely score performed by The Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra under the baton of Shawn Gough.

The Little Dancer creative team captures the world of Degas in minute detail. Tony Award winner Beowulf Boritt’s set design is elegant and truly captures the heartbeat and the underbelly of the ballet in 19th century France. Six-time Tony Award winner William Ivey Long’s costume design makes the works of Degas literally spring to life from the canvas. Praise also goes to Tony Award winner Ken Billington’s light design and Tony nominee Kai Harada’s sound design, which enhanced the story unfolding on the stage.

Karen Ziemba and Sophia Anne Caruso. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Karen Ziemba and Sophia Anne Caruso. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Little Dancer – powered by the creative inspiration of Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty, and Susan Stroman – has what it takes to be an enduring hit! A glorious blend of the best of the ballet and musical theater worlds, Little Dancer beats with the heart and spirit of every plucky little girl who yearns for a chance to shine. And this enchanting musical truly sparkles and shines.

Running Time: 2 ½ hours, including a 15-minute intermission.

Little Dancer plays through November  30, 2014 at The Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater -2700 F Street, in Washington, DC. For tickets Call (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.



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3 Responses to ‘Little Dancer’ at The Kennedy Center

  1. Susan Dreyfus November 22, 2014 at 9:27 am #

    I loved every minute of this enchanting musical! This article says it all. Bravo!

    • Riley Sever November 22, 2014 at 4:30 pm #

      I saw “Little Dancer” last week and was deeply by moved by the story and the production. I was shocked to read reviews in the Washington Post, Variety, and the New York Times that failed to find the same pleasure and creativity that I had seen. When I read your perceptive review, I was relieved that someone else enjoyed the production as much as I did.

      In contemplating the positive view that you brought to this show, I wondered if the difference was that the other critics were men. Perhaps you brought a woman’s perspective to a show that is basically about women at various stages of life and how they dealt with the challenges of surviving in a “man’s world.”

      • Courtney Poland November 30, 2014 at 8:53 pm #

        I couldn’tagree more with what Riley Sever said. Little Dancer moved me so deeply that I went back to see it FIVE times. Diane’s review is one of the only reviews that captured how I felt about this spectacular production, pure genius on every level. Each of the 5 times I saw it, I was riveted for the entire 2 1/2 hours. Everyone I spoke with before and after those 5 performances, had fabulous reactions and most everyone I spoke with was seeing it for a 2nd or 3rd time. So obviously your review is more true to what audiences are saying about Little Dancer. Thank you for writing such a wonderful review.