By Tim Feran
The Columbus Dispatch Saturday September 22, 2012 12:13 AM
To some, the American Songbook may seem like a dusty old volume of creaky standards.
But in the hands of BalletMet Columbus with an assist from the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus and the very living voices of two long-departed legends, the three-act show “The American Songbook” makes you laugh, cry, clap your hands and stand up and cheer.
Performed in the company’s black box performance space, the show features three pieces — Dear Miss Cline, Before the Dawn and Simply Sammy.
Dear Miss Cline is a witty melding of poodle skirts and pas de deux, prom night and en pointe, a little square dance and lot of nostalgia.
The piece features the recordings of Patsy Cline, and the simple production design evokes a 1950s dance under the moonlight. But all of that — and the costumes — disguise the fact that Amy Seiwert’s choreography is rigorously classical. With different lighting, music and costumes, much of the piece could have been staged 100 years ago.
Which, of course, is the very shrewd message: Cline’s music may have been performed in a particular time, but the magic of her talent makes it timeless.
The mood shifts to 1930s urbane in the world premiere of Before the Dawn, choreographed by Stella Kane, director of dance at Otterbein University.
Using standards by Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen and Cole Porter, and 13 members of the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus, Kane has crafted a romantic piece in which all the men are dashing and all the women are chic.
The risk that Kane takes in Before the Dawn is that she won’t achieve a good balance. Once the singers are brought on stage, their presence is immediate. The dancers could seem little more than a visual aid for the singers, at times simply illustrating a lyric.
At the same time, even the presence of those singers could fade into background noise once BalletMet’s dancers put their extraordinary talent to work.
Luckily, Kane is careful to showcase a singer — Mark Cooke in That Old Black Magic, Brent Rayburn in Dream-Dancing — as needed, and gives the piece continuity and charm.
The concluding piece, Simply Sammy, had no problem maintaining balance. This stunning, sexy bow to the talent of Sammy Davis Jr. cannot be topped.
While the company performed the entire piece with vigor and truly inspired emotion, solo efforts by Jimmy Orrante and Courtney Muscroft must be applauded. Orrante, dancing to Davis’ recording of What Kind of Fool Am I? literally threw himself into the emotion of the song, twirling as if laboring under the weight of emotion. Muscroft, meanwhile, was jaw-droppingly sassy and sexy to a recording of Davis crooning Bye Bye Blackbird.