To former nightclubbers looking for a bit of the old ultraviolets, “Groovaloo” must look like heaven. The 90-minute danceathon is to “America’s Best Dance Crew” what “Burn the Floor” is to “Dancing With the Stars” — an up-close-and-personal show that provides the same high you get on TV, with that extra juice that comes from watching the rainbow coalition of thin, beautiful performers live. But the squeaky-clean routines and corporate-sounding follow-your-dreams voiceover strike some false notes, so the overall effect is a little like an extended version of the most wonderful Gap ad imaginable.
Still, the dancing here is frequently incredible. Jesse Brown in particular brings such energy to his impossible-looking flips and spins that it’s hard not to want to try them yourself (don’t, though). Brown’s character, Poe One, joins his colleagues in telling his life story, and the Cliff’s Notes for each story probably look pretty similar: had troubled adolescence, found self through dance, broke it down, got funky, took show on road.
Hopefully pointing this out doesn’t minimize the suffering these characters (based on the show’s creators) have endured, but the prosaic stories stand firmly in the way of the show’s potential. It also doesn’t help that some of these stories remind us pretty clearly of other stories, like the tale of Al Star (gorgeously danced by Caity Lotz), who relives the plot of “Save the Last Dance.”
Which is not to say the evening is a bust. The fluorescent set looks the site of a nuclear accident (in a good way), and the 1990s-style costumes are fun without causing any serious ocular strain.
The insta-inspirational plots frequently result in some stellar routines — a couple of dancers (Jon Cruz and Oscar Orosco) start their duet with a been-done premise (a guy dancing with his reflection) but turn it into a great, multilevel competition that might be the show’s highlight.
It’s tempting to say “Groovaloo” would be better if the performers just threw out the plot altogether and did routine after routine. But its lead creators (Bradley Rapier and director Danny Cistone) clearly believe the show’s reason for being is to inspire people. The dancers are pretty impressive all by themselves — who knew it was possible to spin on your head for that long and live to tell the tale? — so one wonders what else Rapier and Cistone needed to prove.
Part of it may have to do with Steven Stanton, one of the original Groovaloo gang who was gunned down in a club shooting a few months before the show’s original iteration was scheduled to open. He dances with a cane, which actually is genuinely inspiring when it’s explained. Stanton’s story stands out against the other performers’ precisely because we can see its effects. Everyone else seems to have completely overcome their various obstacles; Stanton stands there wrestling with his before our very eyes.