Contact – Lincoln Center 2000
Contact consists of three seemingly disparate stories, but the element that ties them all together is swing dancing. So the creators of the musical, Stroman and Weidman, played around with the word “swing” and developed the plots from its various implications: a painting by the eighteenth-century French artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard became the spark for the first piece. Fragonard’s famous work “The Swing” depicts a bucolic forest setting in which a beautiful young woman soars on a swing while two men look on. Imagining the story behind the painting, Stroman and Weidman came up with a wordless (almost) dance tale in which a servant and his master vie for the young lady’s affection. The idea for the second story initially took off from the word “swingers,” as in Frank Sinatra’s infamous “Rat Pack” swingers in 1960s-era Las Vegas. But as the piece evolved, and the thematic connection among the three pieces became clearer and more prominent, the authors realized that they were dealing with deeper issues, and changed direction. “All three pieces have to do with contact,” says Stroman. “The ability or inability to connect.” So the main character in the second story became a wistful housewife, alternately reaching out to a remote, abusive husband, and retreating from him into a romantic fantasy. And the setting shifted, too, from a Las Vegas bar to an Italian restaurant in Queens in 1954. In the third part, “Contact,” a desperate man’s subconscious conjures up a fantasy of connection which ultimately saves his life. It is almost unheard of in the musical theater for a project to go from conception to production in less than a year, but that is what happened with Contact. Previews began on September 9, 1999, at the Newhouse and a month later it opened to some of the most over-the-moon reviews seen in many seasons. “Contact achieves what few musicals do these days: a euphoric connection between the audience and the stage,” raved the New York Times’s Ben Brantley. “It’s a sustained endorphin rush of an evening, that rare entertainment that has you floating all the way home. Susan Stroman, aided by John Weidman’s clever script and a dream ensemble, has created a new musical throbbing with wit, sex appeal and a perfectionist’s polish. The dancers who make up the ensemble each register with a firm stamp of individuality. You’re astonished by the clear, distinct presence of every performer on stage. To dance is to live in Ms. Stroman’s world. Contact lets you feel that you’ve joined that dance.” Terry Teachout in Time Magazine added, “Contact consists of three short stories accompanied by a delectably eclectic jukebox of recordings. The results are magical. The feel is that of a trio of exquisitely tooled, MGM-style production numbers, but updated and given emotional weight. Each playlet is peopled with lonely hearts longing to reach out to someone, and when they finally touch, your own heart will do all the singing necessary.” The score of Contact is indeed an “eclectic jukebox,” mixing and matching musical styles with different historical periods in a consistently inventive and surprising way. For example, the first piece –“Swinging” – is set in eighteenth-century France, but the dancing is done to a recording by the great contemporary jazz violinist Stephane Grapelli of “My Heart Stood Still,” a Rodgers and Hart song from the 1920s. The second story – “Did You Move?” – takes place in 1954, but the characters dance to nineteenth-century classical music by Grieg, Tchaikovsky, and Bizet. And the third story, “Contact,” which takes place today, employs a panoply of classics from all over the last century, performed by everyone from Benny Goodman to the Beach Boys, from Robert Palmer to the Squirrel Nut Zippers. As a special bonus for this album, Contact star Boyd Gaines has recorded a new version of the song heard at the top of Act Two – “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You” – in a swinging new arrangement by Douglas Besterman. Audiences loved Contact from the very first preview. Standing ovations nightly caused Lincoln Center Theater to extend the initial engagement at the small Newhouse Theater and finally to move the production to LCT’s larger theater, the Vivian Beaumont, where it re-opened on March 30, 2000, for an open-ended run and went on to win four Tony Awards® for Stroman, Gaines, Ziemba and the show itself as Best Musical. While it is impossible to fully appreciate the impact of Contact without seeing the breathtaking dancing and heartfelt acting of the incredible company which performs it, this compilation of music from the show does capture how remarkably different Contact is from most Broadway musicals today. And as you listen, don’t just sit on your living room floor – get up and dance!
– Thomas Cott
Jason Antoon John Bolton Tomé Cousin Holly Cruikshank Pascale Faye Boyd Gaines Steve Geary Nina Goldman David Gomez Peter Gregus Shannon Hammons Jack Hayes Danny Herman Sean Martin Hingston Stacey Tood Holt Angelique Ilo Violetta Klimczewska David MacGillivray Joanne Manning Stephanie Michels Mayumi Miguel Dana Stackpole Scott Taylor Rocker Verastique Christiane Wersinger Robert Wersinger Deborah Yates Karem Ziemba