Are these girls getting frequent flier miles? The women of “Swing!,” a bouncy new revue that celebrates the American dance craze that’s in vogue again, spend an awful lot of time airborne, tossed hither and thither by their dapper dancing partners with a precision that’s nothing short of breathtaking. In two hours of song and dance, some of them never seem to hit the ground.
That airborne feeling will be shared by fans of this dance genre and the music that inspired it. High altitudes, high spirits and high energy are the watchwords of this exuberant show, which features some top-flight talent not normally found under a proscenium: jazz vocalist and songwriter Ann Hampton Callaway, British pop singer-songwriter Everett Bradley, retro big band leader Casey MacGill and his Gotham City Gates. The fleet, astonishingly agile team of dancers includes both Broadway hoofers and dancers who’ve made their names as swing-dancing champs, some of whom provide their own choreography.
Although it’s clearly been assembled to capitalize on the recent renewal of interest in the swing-dancing genre, “Swing!” doesn’t feel processed and packaged in the manner of some revues (and some book musicals, for that matter, such as “Saturday Night Fever”). The people onstage display a real connection to this music — even those who’ve never previously specialized in it, such as the terrifically talented Broadway ingenue Laura Benanti, formerly Maria in the recent revival of “The Sound of Music,” now using her lovely soprano to torchier effect singing a richly comic “Cry Me a River” to a young man with an amazingly expressive trombone.
The show’s format is straightforward, alternating ensemble dances and pas de deux with song solos or duets, the occasional comic novelty number thrown in for good measure. Directed and choreographed by Lynne Taylor-Corbett, “Swing!” moves along swiftly and with ample variety, and doesn’t overstay its welcome, ringing down the curtain with a big finish just after 10.
William Ivey Long provides an eclectic mix of colorful costumes, some splashy and contemporary (white leather tennies?), some of old-fashioned, silken refinement. The set by Thomas Lynch likewise attempts to bridge the distance between the swing era and our own, though its neon colors and deco details don’t jibe entirely gracefully.
But generally “Swing!” succeeds admirably in its attempt to put a contemporary shine on the sights and sounds of another era. The new compositions , including songs by Callaway, MacGill and Bradley, hold their own against venerable tunes from Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Count Basie. They’re played with polish and punch by MacGill and his band.
Taylor-Corbett’s choreography adds an athleticism born of the aerobic era to the signature movements of swing dancing. Electrifying to watch though it often is, Taylor-Corbett’s more aggressively gymnastic choreography may not be to all tastes, but she also provides some more beguiling pas de deux that mix ballet and swing-inspired movements fluidly.
Callaway provides much of the most impressive vocalizing. A stately, stylish performer who easily commands the stage, she has a voice of big, brassy beauty. She has clearly been influenced by the women who made famous the songs she performs here, and she does both her forebears and the composers justice. Whether she’s scatting through a duet with Bradley on Duke Ellington’s “Bli-Blip ,” or accompanying herself at the piano on Harold Arlen’s moody “Blues in the Night,” Callaway brings an authoritative polish and casual feeling to her singing.
The dancers are no less accomplished. Many are passionate proselytizers for the form: One of the show’s relatively unsung stars is a magnetic young Lindy Hop specialist named Ryan Francois who has the physical nonchalance and sunny grace of a young Fred Astaire. (He’s also the associate choreographer.) His fluid limbs and the shining air of pleasure in movement he exudes are an argument all their own for the enduring appeal of this dance style, and reason enough to see “Swing!”
A few routines fall flat, notably a silly bungee-jumping routine that belongs in a circus. The country number also feels a little gimmicky, but the whirlwind dancing by Robert Royston and Laureen Baldovi is a knockout nonetheless.
“Swing!” doesn’t push the kind of universal nostalgia buttons that made “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” from some of the same producers, a Broadway long-runner. Good reviews and aggressive marketing will be needed if the show is to hold its own on Broadway — particularly with the ecstatically received dance show “Contact,” featuring its own contemporary take on swing, back on the Street in March. But “Swing!” is a pleasing and polished tribute to a particular time and tempo, a lively party that boasts an infectious spirit that mingles nostalgia with a joy in music that’s entirely ageless.