"Ray & Ella" pays tribute to Ray Charles and Ella Fitzgerald, 20th-century musical stars with devoted followings. It feels right at home at Butler University's Schrott Center, where I saw Saturday night the first of two performances of the revival.
|Ella's "Tea for Two" serves four just fine in DK's show.|
That spirit roams freely throughout both halves of the current show, which will be repeated today. "Ella" features artistic director David Hochoy's choreography, typically rich in ideas smoothly linked and blended. After intermission, "Ray" is principally guest choreographer Nicholas Owens' work, with additions by Hochoy. (Going out on a limb, I'm guessing "Till There Was You," a quartet for DK men, was Hochoy's creation. If I'm wrong, congratulations to Hochoy and Owens on successfully melding their styles for "Ray.")
With Laura Glover's lighting and Guy Clark's costumes highlighting the emotional palette and vocal style of both singers, each suite — set to durable recorded performances by the celebrated artists — will likely remain part of the audience's mental pictures of Fitzgerald and Charles for a long time to come.
|Ella Fitzgerald knew how to set a romantic mood.|
That atmosphere was effectively interrupted by the blazing duo of Brandon Comer and Stuart Coleman in "Too Darn Hot." The piece was a fine illustration of Hochoy's gift for superimposing on a song a dizzying succession of ideas, never jerked into position but following one another coherently and delightfully. It was danced impeccably Saturday night. The artistic director's sense of humor bubbled up in a setting of "Tea for Two," delightfully cozy as danced by Noah Trulock and three women. The sculptural pose on the last note was all by itself a great tribute to Ella's vocal buoyancy.
Angular movement came fittingly to the fore with a women's trio, "Cry Me a River," picking up cues from the bluesy interplay of Fitzgerald's voice and a solo electric guitar. The thrusting and strutting vocabulary was expanded upon in Hochoy's inspired take on Ella's scatting talent, captured here in a concert version of her perennial vehicle for wordless improvisation, "Lady Be Good." The company was presented in lickety-split ecstasy before the calming finale, "With a Song in My Heart."
|Ray Charles painted with a broad palette.|
Owens' choreography sometimes strikes me as too busy, but in this piece, physical nuance would be beside the point. Still, it strikes me that "Ray" might have benefited from fewer full-ensemble numbers, despite Charles' rootedness in the communal exuberance of the black church. "Ray" could have used more pure charm on the order of the Caitlin Negron and Phillip Crawshaw duet to "Hallelujah, I Love Her So."
|Emotional rescue: "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Cryin'"|
For a better exposition of solitude's poignancy, "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Cryin'" took the palm, as danced by Comer, Mariel Greenlee, and Justin Sears-Watson. A sense of humor came through in "Mess Around," and some of that feeling would have been germane in "Hit the Road, Jack," especially to accompany Charles' fadeout pleading at the end. But perhaps I hear that song
That's the hazard of a show like this, when preconceptions of famous singers and their songs can be difficult even for expert choreography to dislodge. "Ray & Ella" nonetheless does a pretty good job of it, especially to the degree that it vigorously polishes the Charles and Fitzgerald icons.
[Production photos by Crowe's Eye Photography]