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  WINDY CITY TIMES

THEATER REVIEW Saving the World
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times
2019-06-18

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Author: Marc Kelly Smith ( libretto ), Diana Lawrence ( music )

At: Chicago Tap Theatre at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets: 773-327-5252; stage773.com; $30-$40. Runs through: June 30

The literary aspects of dance get scant attention, but think how many dance works have characters and narrative lines. Someone had to write the scenarios for Swan Lake, Slaughter on 10th Avenue, The Rite of Spring and countless others, and it rarely was the composer. Many distinguished literati have prepared librettos for dance works, among them Jean Cocteau who did several.

Mark Yonally, founder/artistic director of Chicago Tap Theatre, calls such works "Story Shows" ( his caps ) and other dance troupes also use the term. Yonally wrote several himself before partnering with Chicago poet and storyteller Marc Kelly Smith. This world premiere of Saving the World is Kelly's sixth collaboration with Chicago Tap Theatre.

The story is simple and simplistic, but no more so than the great ballets cited in the opening paragraph of this review. Idealistic June Pasteur ( Jennifer Pfaff Yonally ) creates Disaster Relief Control ( DRC ), which helps resettle folks left homeless by natural calamities. DRC wins international renown but has no visible means of support, so it partners with smarmy billionaire Max Worthington ( Mark Yonally ), who soon coopts June and the DRC. With the help of her longtime DRC partner ( and maybe boyfriend ), David Hart ( Isaac Stauffer ), June and her allies rally to take DRC back from Worthington.

The entire tale is told through Yonally's tap choreography and original music—sometimes lilting, sometimes driving—composed by Diana Lawrence ( also musical director ) and played on keyboards ( with a good deal of sampling ), cello and bass guitar. They've worked with director Raphael Schwartzman on the staging, in which Smith himself provides bits of wry narration.

Yonally's engaging choreography runs through every possible dance combination from numerous solos through duets ( even a pas de deux for June and David ), trios, quartets on up to full company ( 12 dancers ) unison. There's even a brief company kick-line. Yonally's patterns are relatively simple—circles, lines, v-formation and two lines/groups facing each other—but entirely effective in communicating the gist of each situation. For instance, the ensemble dances the natural disasters before assuming positions as victims, and it's clear when they are a tornado, a wave or a hurricane.

For reasons that are arbitrary, Smith's libretto includes a danced version of a computer game, Pong Ping, played three times by different people. The third match, a duet by ensemble dancers Sterling Harris and Case Prime, is notably athletic and dazzling. The Pong Ping sequences also show off Jeffrey Bivens' fun projections. Of course, Yonally saves several excellent bits for himself—song and dances minus the song—clicking his heels in snazzy two-tone Oxford tap shoes.

Saving the World runs 90 minutes and is easy to take, easy to like—and is family-friendly.


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