Theater Review: Little Dancer Shines at The Kennedy Center

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It’s not every day Washington, DC theater goers get treated to a world premiere Broadway show, so when it happens, it feels extra special. Little Dancer The Musical has been playing at The Kennedy Center for a few weeks before it had it’s official bow November 20th.

Featuring a book and lyrics by Tony Award winner Lynn Ahrens, music by Tony Ard winner Steph Flaherty and direction and choreography by five-time Tony Award winner Susan Stroman this multi-layered show has the production pedigree to go all the way and I will lose all faith in the Broadway gods if this amazing production doesn’t make it to the great white way. The show successfully blends standard brava musical with moments of classical ballet to create something truly unique and original.

It tells the story of the creation of Little Dancer the famous sculpture by Edgar Degas – which is currently on view at the National Gallery of Art. At the time of the unveiling the Ballet scene was a stodgy affair and as with all great art, the statue wasn’t appreciated by the “glitterati” at the time. Most saw it as portraying the ballet scene in a negative light.

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Marie van Goethem, the woman who posed for the sculpture burgeoning dancing career was cut short due to the outrage the sculpture produced in the art world. Many said that it was a black mark on the ballet world and that Goethem should never be allowed to dance again. In a time when poverty was overwhelming, dancing was the only way out that she had. Being banned from dancing again was akin to getting a death sentence.

Now an adult, Goethem (Rebecca Luker) is desperate to view the sculpture that destroyed her life. She convinces the old woman caretaker that she is the one who posed for the sculpture by telling her story. The show flashes back to when Geothem was a young dancer (Tiler Peck) and the struggles she goes through to achieve her dreams.

Even though Goethem lives in a time of intense poverty, her entire body and spirit comes alive on the dance floor. The show shines when Tiler Peck is doing what she was clearly born to do. She performs brings exuberance and joy to each of the signature dances.

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Little Dancer is more than a show about the ballet scene and Goethem’s life; it is a show about the never-ending spirit of an artist – whether it’s a painter, dancer or anyone who decides to pursue a life of creativity. I’m admittedly a sucker for any story that delves into the creative process, anyone who thinks creating art is easy needs to watch a show like this. There’s a lot of hard work and politics that goes on behind the scenes.

The world of the Ballet is not only about talent, but it’s also about appearances and anything that Goethem does off stage reflects onstage. The show doesn’t shy away from some of the seedier aspects of dance, like shady producers who try and “pimp” the girls out to rich suitors for financial backing.

Stroham does a brilliant job of showcasing the flashback scenes and the show does a beautiful job of showcasing Goethem at different points in her career and there are several times when Old/Young Goethem are on stage together and it never becomes confusing what’s going on.

One of the show’s stand out, must see moments comes in the final ten minutes where Peck performs a brilliantly moving 10-minute montage that gives the audience a glimpse of Goethem’s post ballet life and clearly it’s not a happy one.

Little Dancer is a feast that shouldn’t be missed by musical fans.  Little Dancer The Musical is at The Kennedy Center through November 30th. For more information click here.

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