By C.S. Gilbert
'Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks," now playing at Waterfront Playhouse, sounds like a bit of musical fluff -- and to be sure there is period music as well as some spiffy dance moves. But ultimately Joy Hawkins as Lily and Denis Hyland as Michael dance to a moving, and satisfying, finale.
The play by Richard Alfieri has been translated into 12 languages and played in more than 20 countries, including productions in Berlin, Sydney, Vienna, Madrid, Amsterdam, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Istanbul and on and on. Impressive. Keep that in mind during the slightly bumpy beginning, when one might wonder if there's anything nice at all about these people. Never fear. Act Two is a joy. And the quality of the zingers throughout range from brilliant to only just plain funny.
The production displays Waterfront Playhouse's usual high level of professional competence. How-ever, a one-set Florida condo, even as designed by the ever-inventive scenic designer-technical director Michael Boyer, can't quite compare with the scenic originality of, say, "The 39 Steps." The play doesn't call for complicated sound, lighting or special effects, but Boyer, with director Stuart Meltzer on sound design, were fine. Meltzer is making his local debut, on loan from the Zoetic Stage in Miami.
It does seem, however, that Lily has awfully good taste for the wife of a Southern Baptist preacher from South Carolina. The art and décor are very nice. Nowhere is this taste seen more clearly than in Lily's costumes as designed by Carmen Rodriguez, which grow more elegant as the weeks pass. And Michael's costumes, which he wears well, keep pace -- it's so nice to see a tux and then a dinner jacket, both in rather short supply these days.
Both Hawkins and Hyland bring effective and affecting skills to their roles, slowly revealing the poignant vulnerabilities under their shells of propriety and belligerence respectively. The part of an apparently brash ex-chorus boy is perhaps not as huge a stretch for Hyland but Hawkins' Southern matron takes some doing and she does it well; her accent is especially consistent and commendable.
Since I've always claimed that the toughest job in any production is that of the stage manager, a tip of the hat to Annie Miners -- as well as to the choreographer, newcomer Luigi Ritarossi.
A fabulous opening-night post-party was sponsored by the ever-generous Nikki McCausland and catered by the ever-amazing Theresa Wright.
Once a few opening night glitches are smoothed out, the show will surely achieve the level of excellence we've come to expect from the Waterfront (voted, after all, the best professional theater in Florida for several years running).
"Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks" proves ultimately that friendship needs know no limits and need not be circumscribed by age or sexual orientation -- or even by stereotypes about those Southern Baptist preacher's wives. It will make you laugh and laugh and laugh. And then, very gently, it will break your heart.