Review: The 5th Avenue Theatre’s Marie Dancing Still Needs Work

“Marie, Dancing Still” Book & Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. Music by Stephen Flaherty. Directed & Choreographed by Susan Stroman (photo by Paul Kolnik)

“Marie, Dancing Still” Book and Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. Music by Stephen Flaherty. Directed & Choreographed by Susan Stroman (phot by Paul Kolnik)

Marie, Dancing Still playing at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre through April 14, 2019. Get tickets and more info here.

Edgar Degas is one of the most famous of artists known commonly as The Impressionists. His paintings hang in some of the most prestigious art galleries in the world. Towards the latter part of his life, as his eyesight began to fail, Degas changed modalities and began working with clay figures and sculpting. It was because of this that he created one of his most famous pieces of work; the statue Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. It is this controversial figure, as well as the woman that inspired it, that is at the center of the newest, pre-Broadway musical, Marie Dancing Still currently playing at the 5th Avenue Theatre.

The setting is Paris and the year is the early 1880’s. Edgar Degas is a master painter recognized for painting ballet dancers. A young aspiring dancer named Marie is one of a line of ‘street rats’ (named for the starving, young girls wanting to perform in the ballet) trying to earn a position with the Paris Opera/Ballet. Marie is from a poor family raised by an alcoholic mother that takes in laundry to earn a wage. By a chance encounter, Degas recognizes Marie as the girl that stole his wallet and watch. Instead of turning her over to the police, the artist barters her as a model to inspire his work. Their relationship grows, albeit platonic – she is only 14 years old – as the artist’s eyesight continues to fail. With one final burst of Muse-like inspiration, Degas switches mediums to sculpting and begins to create one of his most controversial pieces in his lifetime.

The show itself is enjoyable with a hard-working cast and, as one would expect, beautiful ballet dancing. The stars of the show are really those in the ensemble that perform the graceful ballet with great beauty. They work together, and it shows as the entire cast fits well and performs as one. There are several notable names from Broadway associated with this show as well, both in front of the stage and behind. Dee Hoty plays the Impressionist Mary Cassatt, one of the few female artists of the time. She portrays the painter as a genuine friend of Degas, showing a regal presence on the stage. Karen Ziemba plays Martine, Marie’s laundress mother. Ms. Ziemba’s presence is strong, and her voice is well seasoned.

Terrence Mann plays the tortured artist Edgar Degas. His is a strong stage presence that easily commands the eye to follow him. His voice is strong, having created several of Broadway’s classic roles (“Beast” and “Javert” are only a few), and is easily heard throughout the theatre. Mr. Mann allows the artist to show his vulnerability while keeping up a curmudgeon’s façade bringing a humanity to an otherwise tortured soul.

Louise Pitre plays the adult Marie, and unofficial narrator of the musical as she relives her life in flashbacks. Her voice is strong, and she handles the music with clear gusto. Ms. Pitre expresses the angst of remembering her painful past and the mistakes she made when she was Degas muse. Tiler Peck plays the young Marie van Goethem. Ms. Peck is a Principle Dancer with the New York City Ballet and is incredible to see on stage. She plays the inspirational ballet ingénue with a strong gusto and vive. Her dancing is graceful and an absolute pleasure to watch her illustrate the lithe and beauty of the dance. Her singing voice is strong as is her stage presence; the rare, triple threat of the stage.

Susan Stroman (The Producers, Show Boat, Young Frankenstein) is the director and choreographer of this new musical. The expertise that has awarded her with five Tony Awards is easily expressed as she showcases the beauty of the ballet. From the simple stretches at the bar to the dream ballet solos, the dancing in this show is a delight to watch.

The book and lyrics are written by Lynn Ahrens with music by Stephen Flaherty. The show’s music is beautiful but more reminiscent of the team’s later works (Seussical, the Musical and Anastasia) than their former (Once on this Island, Ragtime). While the songs are enjoyable at the time, there are none that will stay with anyone leaving the theatre – with the exception of the odd number “Laundry”, and that would be for all the wrong reasons. While Once on this Island had the number “Waiting for Life to Begin” early on to capture the audience, and Ragtime had its brilliant kaleidoscope montage opening, Marie Dancing Still lacks that early placed musical scene to bring the audience into the story.

The company of “Marie, Dancing Still” Book and Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. Music by Stephen Flaherty. Directed & Choreographed by Susan Stroman (photo: Paul Kolnik)

The company of “Marie, Dancing Still” Book and Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. Music by Stephen Flaherty. Directed & Choreographed by Susan Stroman (photo: Paul Kolnik)

There are flaws with the Marie Dancing Still, but it is also a Musical Work-In-Progress. Marie’s flirtation with “Christian” (played by Kyle Harris) is a throwaway sideline whose only purpose is to make clear that nothing romantic was going on between Marie and Degas. The role of “Christian” needs to be fleshed out to one of more substance, or it needs to be cut – at this point it really adds nothing except time to the performance. The songs/music are ok but there is nothing memorable about the score, with not a single breakaway song, nor even one for a soloist.

The story is historical fiction with fiction being the key word. While the inspiration for Little Dancer Aged Fourteen was a real woman named Marie van Goethem, little else is known about her except that for a short time she was a dancer at the Paris Opera/Ballet, and was a model for Edgar Degas. Otherwise, she is lost to the mysteries of the Parisian Streets. Degas’ misogyny is played down (represented by a few easily missed quips between Degas and Cassatt) and while it is quietly mentioned that controversy has driven away most of his artistic friendships it is not revealed that it was due to Degas being a raving Anti-Semite. But then we should remember: Mrs. Anna wasn’t by the side of the King of Siam when he died as in The King and I, Caesar Rodney did not return to the Continental Congress to sign the Declaration of Independence as represented in 1776, and the surname Von Trapp is one of the few remaining facts in The Sound of Music. Marie Dancing Still is a musical fantasy, not a documentary on The History Channel. As with Stephen Sondheim’s Pulitzer Prize Winning musical Sunday in the Park with George, Marie Dancing Still is a musical based on a brilliant artist’s work, and the speculation of living life with his Muse.

Marie, Dancing Still playing at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre through April 14, 2019. Get tickets and more info here.

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Eric Andrews-Katz

Eric Andrews-Katz

Eric Andrews-Katz has short stories included in over 10 anthologies. He is the author of the Agent Buck 98 Series (“The Jesus Injection” and “Balls & Chain”), and the author of the Greek myth series beginning with the novel TARTARUS. He has conducted celebrity interviews with some of the biggest and best names on Broadway, Hollywood and in literature. He can be found at: http://www.EricAndrewsKatz.com

1 Reply to “Review: The 5th Avenue Theatre’s Marie Dancing Still Needs Work”

  1. Ted Strutz says:

    This is an excellent review. I enjoyed the play immensely, yes it needs that one song.

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