The Old Globe bills their latest production on the Shiley Stage as a “dance-musical.” This creation, however, could also be labeled a “collaboration-ultimo” or “vignette-a-palooza.” Instead of a standard one, two, or three-person creative team, In Your Arms features ten (10!) vignette-writers woven together by the music of Stephen Flaherty and the choreography/direction of Christopher Gatelli. Flaherty’s usual writing partner—Lynn Ahrens—adds lyrics on the few occasions that feature them.
One of the highest compliments to pay to a dance show, however, is a compliment worthy of this show: it really doesn’t need words.
Set against the stylized backdrop of the Casa di Giulietta—the historic Italian residence that supposedly inspired Shakespeare to write Romeo & Juliet—the piece explores aspects of love across time and circumstance. The show traverses dance styles from flamenco to ballet to tap to African to ballroom. The set is perfect in its ability to transform locales, cast light, and disappear completely. Stunningly effective projections add to the spectacle.
The cast includes a dizzying array of Broadway talent, young and old. Veterans include the stately Donna McKechnie whose vignette frames the entire production. Thankfully, she sings the title song, and imbues it with grace and gravitas. Audiences eager to see George Chakiris will have to be content with a cameo appearance, as he joins McKechnie in the latter frame.
The absolute best parts of this whole dance tapestry occur right in the middle. The four vignettes starting with one written by Carrie Fisher (yes, that Carrie Fisher) make up the heart of the show, feature the most engaging moments of dance with story, and highlight the brightest talents in the cast. Fisher’s vignette—titled “Lowdown Messy Shame”—is a surprisingly hilarious mélange of ballet and tap narrated by a snarky, Princess Leia’d Jen Harris. Samantha Sturm is a sweet and spritely prima ballerina here. Whereas this sequence is laugh-out-loud funny, the following one is heart-wrenching. “A Wedding Dance” features Marija Juliette Abney and Adesola Osakalumi in the most desperate and evocative moments of the entire evening. In “Artists and Models, 1929,” Ryan Steele stars as a young model in the decadent Village scene. His body is beautiful, and he uses it to create some amazing lines. “Life Long Love” is simply mesmerizing. Henry Byalikov and Karine Plantadit manage to strike that stunning point of athletic and emotional dance with painful accuracy.
In Your Arms is a curious creation full of both humor and heart. A book musical it is not, but the themes and motifs within the piece are accessible and lovely. It is a delightfully satisfying dance-song cycle. The production runs through October 25, 2015 at The Old Globe.