Shadows: A Review
New York is a haunted city. There among the hustle and bustle of crowded streets are places where spirits hold sway. In Gramercy Park there’s a mansion that houses the bedroom in which the great actor Edwin Booth took his last breath. It’s been kept exactly as it was on the night he passed. The night the lights went out in the park across the way. That’s how waiting reporters knew the great man had died. In Harlem there’s the brownstone home of the late great Harry Houdini. It sits there quietly. Some of his belongings are still there. Others live there now. A chain blocks the stoop steps so that inquisitive strangers can be kept at bay. The curious still come. They wait outside and wonder. They wonder if the people now residing there ever experience his otherworldly presence. They wonder how they coexist with a spirit as strong as his.
The city is quietly filled with stories like these. The most eerie are the lesser known. The ones where spirits and residents exist together in the everyday moments. Some people know they see the ghosts. They feel their energy about them. Others go about their business without experiencing a thing even though the ghosts are there. The dance musical Shadows, which recently played at downtown’s New York’s Connelly Theater, sets itself the task of telling a tale that could have been born in any of these apartments. With a book by Randall David Cook, music and lyrics by Edison Woods, Maxim Moston, and Karen Biskho, and directed and choreographed by Joey McKneely this intimate little tale delivers a tragic and haunting love story.
Claire has inherited this particular studio apartment in this story from her grandmother. She’s kept it as it once was and as a sometime escape from her suburban marriage. It’s there that she keeps her husband and children at bay. Claire has never noticed anything eerie about her domicile. She feels her grandmother’s presence but it’s probably because there’s a large painting of the once great ballerina hanging prominently in the main room. There she is dressed in red, frozen in time and in the dance. There she is still lording over her home. Claire has decided that its time to sell this place. She’s grown bored of it along with everything else in her life, but her grandmother has other plans and a story to reveal.
A much-needed change of pace enters Claire’s life in the form of Alex, a young, aggressive, and very ambitious real estate agent. Before they decide to become client and agent an immediate spark fires. It isn’t very long after when an affair begins. Their passions ignite and Claire decides to keep her place of escape which then becomes their love nest for two. A hideaway from her marriage and, as we discover, his as well. But this affair also triggers another energy, another set of passions of which the lovers are completely unaware. There are ghosts that haunt this place. Ghosts that remain trapped there as a result of their own indiscretions. You see Claire’s grandmother had an affair herself which led to a murder and a suicide. Four spirits are trapped there because of these events and their endless grief will haunt Claire and Alex and eventually be their undoing.
Shadows is a well intentioned hybrid of classical dance concert and musical theatre presentation. The results though are a mixed bag. There are individual parts that work exceedingly well and others that just don’t serve the whole. To begin with there’s a hurdle here of a story centrally based on only two characters singing their stories. This results in a tennis match feel of back and forth turn-taking, with Claire getting a majority of the stronger numbers and Alex relegated to a supporting presence. There are a couple of duets but the lovers never seem to connect together musically. Janine Divita as Claire and John Arthur Greene as Alex are gifted actors and vocalists but they seem out of their vocal range in a great many places. The music itself has been divided amongst the several different authors splitting the dance, vocal numbers, and mood music into different styles. This parsed approach results in a lack of a cohesive and focused voice.
As the dancer spirits that haunt the apartment Irina Dvorovenko as the Woman in Red, Waldermar Quinones-Villanueva as the Man in Blue, Naomi Kakuk as the Woman in Silver, and Nickemil Concepcion as the Man in Black are wonderful to watch. They dance impeccably and their performances are part of what keeps Shadows a fascinating experiment to experience. The design team has also done an exceptional job. Sheryl Liu’s set design is simple yet highly effective. Brian Nason’s lighting is properly realistic and then quickly leaps to create the successfully unsettling and spooky moods. Sound designer Joe Devico helps to seal the deal by providing some genuine scares. Costumer Christopher Vergara also dresses both the living and the dead beautifully. Overall, they have created a genuine world in which reality exists along with the ethereal.
Shadows is an idea ripe with beautiful possibilities. Director and choreographer Joey McKneely has built a new world that needs to be harnessed and molded into a stronger production. The book needs to be tweaked, the music needs to be reworked, and some new casting is on the checklist as well. All this may seem like much to do but it will be worth it the end and hopefully result in a piece worth its weight in gold.
For more information visit: shadowsdancemusical.com
Edward Medina is an active member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), where he serves on both the Membership and Diversity & Inclusion Committees. He is also a Drama Desk member. Edward welcomes comments at EdwardMedinaAuthor@gmail.com.