Matthew Bourne adds a new outsider to his terpsichorean collection with Edward Scissorhands, the ashen-faced social misfit who has blades instead of fingers. Where, then, does “Edward Scissorhands” fit into Bourne’s repertoire, opening some seven years after the idea was first mooted? As a jokey, somewhat glib addition to a dance-theater canon that usually cuts far deeper. Eagerly awaited New Adventures preem will do brisk biz on name (and curiosity) value alone, but there’s surely a more moving, emotionally incisive production awaiting Bourne’s time and talent than the director-choreographer has devised here.
To his credit, the prolific Bourne hasn’t been content merely to transpose Tim Burton’s 1990 movie to a different medium. While the broad outline is the same, starting with a tale told in flashback, Bourne and co-adapter Caroline Thompson both expand upon the screenplay and lend it different emphases, more often than not of a facetious sort. Result makes hay of a favorite British satiric topic — American suburbia — while underselling the lasting resonance of a film about a “freak” who is in fact considerably more human than the humans around him.
A new Frankenstein-like prologue sets up the fable afresh. Whereas the movie finds Dianne Wiest’s eternally sunny Avon lady chancing upon Edward during her rounds, the ballet adds a somewhat cumbersome back story to Edward’s unique condition that, to be honest, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Set loose following the sudden death of his Inventor (Adam Galbraith), Sam Archer’s black-clad Edward descends into the deliciously skewed landscape of Lez Brotherston’s sets, the designer here reimagining small-town America with the same off-center delight he brought to 1960s London in “Play Without Words.”
An object initially of bemusement that eventually turns to derision and much worse, Edward is taken in by the Boggs family, who are first glimpsed emerging from a house considerably smaller than they are.
The townsfolk allow Bourne to parade before us a stage full of contrasting American archetypes making their variably smiley and/or loutish way through the seasons: from Halloween, the point at which Edward emerges among them, to Christmas and the “snow” that poignantly frames the film.
Various images could only come from the ever-fertile palette of Bourne, who has Edward take to his bed with much the same unspoken want that characterized the emotionally needful Prince in Bourne’s career-making “Swan Lake.” But whereas that piece built toward an overpowering parable of desire and loss, “Edward Scissorhands” gives pride of place to japery — and, in the first act anyway, notably little to actual dance.
The aud revels in the sight of Edward, in a baseball cap, turning an unruly shrub into a star — it’s only a matter of time before the topiary takes center-stage in a comic riot of green. His “hands” pressed into service to skewer multiple kebabs, Edward soon becomes Main Street’s main attraction, the more sexually avid keen to surrender their hair to Edward’s shears. In a neat touch, Edward at one point uses his hands to settle a quiveringly aroused leg: Boys — even boy mutants — will be boys after all.
Where is the dance in all this? Bourne must conjure up a dream ballet — a second-act staple of many classic musicals — to give a literal lift to the first act, since it isn’t otherwise apparent how Archer’s physically dextrous Edward is going to take wing. The second act has more actual choreography, but still gives off the sense of an idea that had already been extensively developed before anyone thought about the practical difficulty of integrating dance into it.
That wouldn’t matter if the ballet delivered the knockout affective blow of Bourne at his best. But for all his technical skill, Archer simply can’t compete with the wounding celluloid close-ups of a scarred Johnny Depp, while Kerry Biggin as Edward’s beloved Kim is oddly blank. (Not enough is made of Kim’s realization that what makes Edward dangerous also makes him her protector.) Nor can Bourne veteran Etta Murfitt match the screen twinkle given off by Wiest, whose stage equivalent isn’t individuated with much wit or force.
Bourne’s show is fun and cleverly designed but lacking in feeling, the material’s power as fable still waiting to be made flesh.