Performing Arts: Theater
March 24, 2019
Five years after arriving in NYC at the invitation of Lincoln Kirstein, and 4 years after founding the School of American Ballet, George Balanchine was tapped to choreograph Roger and Hart’s 1938 musical featuring his fiancé Vera Zorina. A product of the Imperial Ballet in Russia, one thing Balanchine understood was spectacle; and by all accounts, that’s what was delivered.

Now eight decades later, City Center’s lauded Encores! Series dipped back into the coffers of dance-centric musicals to revive the slimmed-down version of I Married an Angel. Joshua Bergasse, the production’s director and choreographer, drew Sara Mearns, his fiancé and a wildly popular NYCB principal dancer, into the production.

Already a seasoned Broadway choreographer, Bergasse is testing his directorial wings. Although he’s still finding his directorial voice, Bergasse’s musical theater roots were particularly evident in the Act I show-stopping tap dance routine. Led by the mighty talented Hayley Padschun and Phillip Attmore the routine caused an eruption of clever tap figures that scattered rhythms into rich, percussive riffs lifted by acrobatic leaps and slides.

Tied to an old-fashioned story about a Budapest banker who claims he can only marry a pure, honest angel, finally get’s his wish. She drops out of the sky (more to the point, flits across the stage in a flurry of runs en pointe) and he falls immediately in love and marries her. Of course, she’s unfamiliar with human ways, and insists that “truth is beauty, and beauty is truth” unless it ruins her husband’s, Mark Evans) career. The underlying message resembles romantic black and white 1930’s films where women are not to be trusted because they are only out for themselves and a man’s money. This theory holds unless of course, you are an angel – but then, being perfect presents its own set of problems.

Most comfortable when bantering cheerily with her angel girlfriends, Mearns exuded a delightful “girl next door” quality. Earthy- voiced and appealing, Mearns’ native language is dance, not the spoken word, and that was most evident when Means struggled to hit her comic timing marks.Red Shoes at City Center last year, or at New York City Ballet, knows Mearns’ dancing is sublime—and so it was again. In this instance, Carlyle’s ballet choreography remained relatively basic and kept her trilling en pointe throughout the ballet Of course, there is this issue of limited space, but when Bergasse was in his element during “How to Win Friends and Influence People” as well as the “Roxy Music Hall” number, he knew how to animate the entire stage—top to bottom, side-to-side.

There are many buoyant songs that tickle the throat. They were brought to life through the original, newly resorted Hans Spialek orchestrations and Rob Fisher’s musical direction. Tucked into the back of the stage, the Encores! Orchestra is outlined in silvery sashes by designer Allen Mayer complimenting Alejo Vietti’s sparkling, elegant costumes.

Innocently simple, I Married An Angel underscored the radiant talents of performers like Mearns, Attmore, Podschun and a standout corps dancer--Barton Cowperthwaite. Perhaps not the most cohesive Encores! production, it did however, offer a welcomed, cheerful respite from the day’s noise.

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