After having seen Ballroom With A Twist many times over the last few years, I knew that Dance To the Movies - a new production from Scott Stander - would be stellar. It’s hard to imagine that I would ever love a show as much as BWAT, but this was edge of your seat, non-stop action brilliance. Low on props (thank goodness) but high on performance from dancers and singers who love their craft , this “High-Octane Ballroom Dance Extravaganza” delivers just as promised.
My oldest daughter and I traveled to Long Island and saw the show three times over the weekend and would have happily seen it a few more times if real life hadn’t needed our attention. The Friday night show began with a special performance from Dancing Classrooms, which is a 20 lesson artist-in-residence program integrated into the Long Island school curriculum for 4th, 5th, 7th, and 8th grades. 18 students from 7 different schools danced together for the first time, and it was a special treat to see the joy of dance on these young faces. These same children were invited up on stage for the audience participation disco lesson from Tristan MacManus, Jonathan Roberts, Chelsie Hightower and Lacey Schwimmer.
There were a lot of unfamiliar dancers in this new production, but we got to know them quickly because each one appeared over and over again. If I tell you that this show was high energy, that would be a huge understatement. Later we were told that everything came together with basically six days of rehearsal. Unbelievable.
Tristan, Jonathan, Lacey, and Chelsie were the hosts for Friday’s show, and Karina Smirnoff flew in Saturday and was part of the team for both Saturday shows (as well as Sunday). Like BWAT, Dance to the Movies relies heavily on audience participation. Jonathan and Chelsie conveyed right from the beginning that they wanted a sporting event atmosphere, and I would say it came close to just that. On a side note, on Saturday afternoon Lacey told the audience that “Baby Tristan” was backstage, and with some gentle encouragement (and a lot of prodding), Tristan brought baby Echo on stage for a brief introduction. Let’s just say that the “Awwwws” were louder than any applause that afternoon. It was a special treat.
The interaction with the audience was wonderful and the questions and answers in this type of show never get old. “Who was your favorite celebrity partner on DWTS?” came up every time. A popular question on Saturday was, “Karina, may I get a selfie?” The disco dance lesson on stage was a riot and all the pros did a wonderful job demonstrating the coolest moves from the 70s. There are clearly some wicked senses of humor among these pros.
Back to the dancing. Early in the show, Jonathan and Academy Award Nominee Lesley Ann Warren came to the front of the stage to take questions about her career. She told many stories about how she got started in show business and how much dance has influenced her life. She’s still as beautiful as she was in Cinderella. She sang twice and danced to “Moon River” and is beautifully elegant and graceful. Jonathan also danced separately with Chelsie and Karina, and both Chelsie and Lacey were featured heavily in special group numbers.
The show’s vocalists were American Idol’s Von Smith (Season 8) and Vonzell Solomon (Season 4). Having seen them together in Ballroom With A Twist-mas in December and having heard Von sing many times in BWAT, I knew how good they would be, but this time they gave me chills and I mean that in the best possible way. “Over the Rainbow” (Von) and “I Will Always Love You” (Vonzell) were only two of their many amazing performances. Vonzell was an amazing Roxie from Chicago as well.
And then there’s Legacy (SYTYCD) who could do a one man show and have the audience on its feet the entire time. Each time I saw him in BWAT I was amazed, but he was in his element in this show. He is the consummate entertainer, and I was delighted that he was in so many different types of numbers because he brings a special energy and humor to everything he does. He also popped into the audience now and then, taking an empty front row seat if he could find it. If not, a random lap did nicely. Oh, and all the ladies around me – no matter what their ages – wanted to see Legacy.
It was wonderful seeing some familiar faces from BWAT and BWAT-mas – CJ Bair, Tony Pututau, Anya Fuchs, and Patricia Kaniowski. I love them all and will never get tired of seeing them dance. They are some of the most versatile performers around, and I always found myself looking for them on stage. No, that’s not right. My eyes were drawn to them on stage. That is a whole lot of talent, and you can’t help but pay attention to them. They are all versatile performers and superstars, in my opinion.
But that’s just the beginning. We saw performances to music from Men In Black, The Matrix, Chicago, Grease, Dirty Dancing, Singin’ In the Rain, Ghost, Harry Potter, The Bodyguard, Lion King, Jailhouse Rock and more. Charlie Chaplin even made an appearance. Those were just the ones I could think of immediately! Tristan and Lacey’s Jive to Jailhouse Rock was a showstopper and drew enormous applause. An entire James Bond Movie sequence with lots of James Bonds, including Tristan, featured spectacular lighting and choreography. Karina danced with Tristan in this number on Saturday (and Sunday). In order to keep this recap a little shorter than War and Peace, I’ll let your imagination take over. My descriptions can't possibly do it justice.
More dancers. SYTYCD finalist Hailee Payne was in so many numbers that I lost count, but my favorite might be her role as one of the Men In Black. Dancer, aerialist, and super-performer Antonio Martinez did it all including a breathtaking performance on the silks while Vonzell Solomon sang “I Will Always Love You.” Antonio showed up as Johnny from Dirty Dancing and Sam from Ghost and so many other times than I lost count. Each time he portrayed a different character and took on a new role with ease. I told Tristan Friday night that I was a little in awe of Antonio’s performances. He was a breath of fresh air and an unexpected boost of charm, energy, and strength.
There was so much more. Brandon Armstrong led us into the show opener, "Puttin' On the Ritz" and made an immediate, lasting impression. Tristan reminded me backstage that Brandon was on DWTS. I remember that! In 2008 Brandon (age 13) was Junior Champion on DWTS with Brittany Cherry. Talk about talented! He has that naturalness about his performances and never makes it look like work. Eric Ascione … what can I say? My friend, Linda, told me that he was her new favorite dancer (she had to qualify that – her new favorite dancer after Tristan, of course). Linda's daughter, Tara, commented that Eric seemed to be enjoying every second of the show, and he was. Timothy Lewis is a fabulous entertainer and his “Singin’ In the Rain” performance was a huge crowd pleaser and one that I couldn't wait to see again in shows two and three. Ekaterina Fedosova was perfection as Baby from Dirty Dancing (yes, she and Antonio did The Lift), but that was only a small part of her involvement in this production. Kimalee Piedad and Laura Kveladze rounded out the cast and impressed me with their energy and passion; they were the perfect complement to this show and had incredible focus and skill. I loved watching them. It’s hard to describe adequately or give everyone the credit they deserve as there was a huge amount of talent under one roof.
This was storytelling through dance at its finest.
The best part of all was how well the cast worked as a cohesive unit and how everything moved almost seamlessly from one number to the other. Well, almost seamlessly. There was a moment on Saturday when Von Smith came on stage, and he was greeted by dead silence. No music. Just silence. So Von did an impromptu tap dance and walked backwards off stage until the announcer got into the spirit and said they would try it "one more time."
The image projection set the mood for each dance and thus there was no need for tons of props. The focus was on the dancing and how the music and voices meshed with the choreography. The costumes were beautiful but not overpowering. The lighting set the mood and enhanced it but didn't take over. It’s how it should be. When many of the cast members came into the audience at the end of the show to “You Should Be Dancing”, we all wanted to high five every single one of them - or give them all huge hugs. I would have given each performer a standing ovation if it wouldn’t have taken all day and night too.
Now please indulge us for a moment as we talk about Tristan. He’s one of the nicest guys around and always, always treats everyone with respect. He’s great to the fans, knows how to engage an audience, and isn’t afraid to laugh at himself. I had the pleasure to speak with him a couple of times times over the weekend, and when I mentioned that we needed some new photos for the website, he indulged me. It probably would have helped if I had lifted the flash on the camera. At the meet and greet the following day I told him the photos were garbage (my fault) so he willingly agreed to take more and it was fun getting Lacey Schwimmer and Karina Smirnoff in on the action. I asked him to sign something for a couple of his big supporters who couldn’t make the show: Kiki (whose second of three scheduled flights from Montana was cancelled causing her to miss everything and who also won our website contest to guess the time/date we reached 1,200,000 forum views) and Toni Ann (who couldn’t make the show because she couldn’t leave her babies for that long). He didn’t just sign his name; he wrote sweet, heartfelt messages.
Special thanks to good friends Linda and Tara who we met up with for a fun afternoon that ended way too soon. Yes, we had our photo taken with Tristan and all the other pros, but I was laughing so hard that I don’t think these will ever see the light of day. Thanks to all of you lovely MacManiacs who made the trip to Long Island. I think the California to Long Island trip was the longest, but the dozen or so Tristan supporters that we met up with over two days all enjoyed the show every bit as much as we did. A few came from New York, several from Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Virginia. I know I’m forgetting some, but the MacManiacs were well represented. Oh, and Tristan? We all miss seeing you on stage so come back soon, okay?
I now have a new favorite Tristan dance and that is “Jailhouse Rock.” It’s a good thing it isn’t on You Tube because I would probably watch it over and over and over….and over and never get anything else done. And Tristan as James bond? A simple “wow” seems too tame.
The show’s choreography was brilliant. Paul Winkelman is the show’s Director and Choreographer but the following also had a huge role in choreographing different dances: Lacey Schwimmer, Randi Strong, Anna Trebunskaya, Chelsie Hightower, Jaymz Tuaileva, Oksana Dmytrenko Platero, Jon Platero, and Nathan Trasora.
Scott Stander, you’ve done it again. Special thanks to you and Chris Powich for your kindness all weekend long. So when will we have the chance to see this fantastic show again? Do let us know when and where and we’ll be right there.
****We have posted lots of photos from the show in our website gallery as well as on Tristan's Facebook Fan Page, and we are still adding new images. Some of the dances were just too fast to capture, but you can get a good idea of what this show is all about by taking a look at the galleries.****