Sunday, July 12, 2009

Theater review: Bold, original 'Vices' lights new fire at Caldwell

Marcus Bellamy and Holly Shunkey in Vices: A Love Story.
(Photo by Sean Lawson)

By Hap Erstein

Have you ever heard cobwebs being dusted off a theater company?

It sounds exactly like Vices: A Love Story, the world premiere musical that yanks the Caldwell Theatre into a new era and announces the arrival of Clive Cholerton as the Boca Raton stage troupe’s new artistic director.

That is not meant as a knock on the work previously seen at the Caldwell, which has long been a pioneer in South Florida theater and a frequent risk-taker. But slightly more than one month into the job, Cholerton has come up with a brash, energetic, sexy show on contemporary life and romance, easily the best new work from the company in the past 15 years.

Cholerton directs the production, but the prime force behind it seems to be choreographer A.C. Ciulla. This 1999 Tony Award nominee (Footloose) devises the quirky, acrobatic dance moves which define the very physical relationship of a couple who quickly go to bed, then get to know each other’s obsessions and vices, en route to figuring out whether they have a future together.

From the opening moments of the 80-minute, intermission-less show, a steamy, athletic pas de deux by Holly Shunkey and Marcus Bellamy -- two lithe, lean human specimens -- Vices: A Love Story proclaims its seductive originality.

It is then the conceit of the show’s committee of writers, Ilene Reid, Michael Heitzman, Everett Bradley and Susan Draus, that a quartet of alter egos shadow the couple, voicing their inner thoughts as they bare their bad habits. She smokes, spends too much on recreational shopping, cannot get enough chocolate, and has a narcissistic addiction to plastic surgery. He is a workaholic, works out to excess at the gym and is hooked on blackjack. And when they inevitably grow bored with each other, they both succumb to temptations of the flesh elsewhere.

These vices are introduced through a series of original songs sung by the talented foursome of Natalie Venetia Belcon, Carlos L. Encinias, Lara Janine and Leajato Amara Robinson. The songs have often-clever lyrics and range stylistically from faux-Mozart opera to rap to rock to pure Broadway belting. To my knowledge, Vices has the first song ever devoted to the vocabulary of text messaging, a distinction that may not suggest an advance in the art of songwriting.

The score is never less than engaging, but without Ciulla’s choreographic ideas and their awesome execution by Shunkey and Bellamy, Vices might be just another musical revue. Still, the songs are arranged with a hip contemporary sound by musical director Jon Rose and there are plenty of standout numbers, including Belcon’s rafter-raising All the Money and Robinson’s body-drumming to Some Like It.

Factor in Sean Lawson’s stage-high projections and you have a winning package that could move beyond Boca intact. But even if the show is rethought and restaged, it is unfathomable that it will not have a life beyond the Caldwell.

Whatever the fate of Vices: A Love Story, a new Caldwell has been jump-started, and an already hot summer just got some welcome added sizzle.

VICES: A LOVE STORY, Caldwell Theatre Co., 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Continuing through Sun., Aug. 2. Tickets: $38-$47.50. Call: (561) 241-7432 or (877) 245-7432.


Gary Hildebrand said...

We are elated "Vices" opened in Caldwell and not the Village. It was refreshing, original, creative and will be enjoyed for years. The cast was amazing and the dancers make you want to watch them perform all evening.

This is a winner and should not be missed if you enjoy the theater. Caldwell should be congratulated for bringing in this outstanding performance.

John Thomason said...

I couldn't disagree more, but that's kind why I'm on this site, right? I loved the modern dance, wanted a lot more of it and a lot fewer songs. The dance portion does signify a move toward younger, hipper, sexier fare for the Caldwell, but I found the songs to be hokey and cornball, attacking predictable targets. I found no emotional connection at all in this show, which I saw as potential squandered. At any rate, I feel it doesn't hold a candle to "Dangerous" as Caldwell's (and Michael McKeever's) best production in years.