Photos by Matthew Murphy
By David Schultz
decade old documentary, “Gotta Dance” about a real-life senior hip-hop
cheerleading basketball team has been reborn as a musical. The team was formed
in 2006 in East Rutherford after the New Jersey Nets hosted an open call for
dancers in their golden years. The rule was being over 60 to join the team. The
end result, making the cut….12 women and one man. They had no idea that the
music they were about to be trained to dance to was hip-hop. In this musical
transformation the Nets become the New Jersey Cougars. The team is initially
crowned with the nutty title of Fifty Shades of Gray. But after a joint
decision they are renamed Nu Hip Crew.
production is chock-a-block filled with well-known dancers and singers of a
certain age with Broadway pedigrees that impress. Director Jerry Mitchell (Kinky
Boots, The Full Monty) marshals his cast in metronomic flashes of wit in
his wildly energetic choreography as this motley crew attempts to learn
hitherto unknown music and dance steps to boot. The rather convoluted scenario
is this: The marketing team for the newly formed group thinks of something
different…. seniors cheering on the team, but not with the music they most
assuredly know and love from their own era, nope…. twist it up with the music
of rap groups like Sugar Hill Gang, Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five.
(Georgia Engel) who is a kindly meek kindergarden teacher in the day has the
right stuff and seems to flow effortlessly into the rap scene.
White (Bea) is a grandma who attempts to rein in her young granddaughter Kendra
(Nkeki Obi-Melekwe), also a cheerleader, albeit a 20 something version, with
sage advice about her still married boyfriend. Commit or dump him she pleads.
members of this crew include Joanne (Donna McKechnie) a long ago Broadway
hoofer who is smarting from her Doctor hubby running off with a younger chippy
leaving her alone to lick her wounds (and performs a tongue-in-cheek replica 0f
her award winning number from A Chorus Line).
(Andre De Shields) self-dubbed “The King of Swing”, a gentle soul, widowed who
has his own private agenda to join this senior group and gain fame with his
snazzy dance moves.
to the mix; Mae (Lori Tan Chinn), the awkward caboose of the team, always off
step and not in tune, yet her undercurrent of sadness about her ailing husband
with Alzheimer’s keeps her moving ever forward, Fran (Lenora Nemetz) a
frustrated saleswoman with her ever-ready Mary Kay products that she hopes to
foist on her aging teammates, Estelle (Madeleine Doherty) blind as a bat, but
still a trouper with her newfound gan
rounding out the mélange, Camilla (Nancy Ticotin) a passionate salsa dancer
with a hunk of a boyfriend who is on the early side of 30ish.
slow moving first act introduces us to all of these characters. The stereotypes
rendered are what one would expect from the depictions of these over-the-hill
hoofers. Yet the sheer force of the charismatic interplay between performers
makes you groan and grin simultaneously. The second act ratchets up the
suspense…can these cheerleaders get in shape to really perform in front of the
huge roaring crowds? After weeks of super intensive training, the PR team is
mighty doubtful, and wants to make them into a joke with the team just rolling
around on geriactric scooters, zooming around the joint, instead of dancing.
Can they snap into shape? Can they work out all their petty differences… can
they? The answer of course is predetermined, as any savvy theatergoer knows
before the curtain even goes up.
simple yet expansive gymnasium setting by David Rockwell is greatly enhanced by
visual projections by lighting designer Kenneth Posner. Costume designer Gregg
Barnes swathes the cast in appropriate mundane clothing at the outset, then
amuses with his Mama Mia like sports outfits for the finale. This geriatric
“Come on gang…. lets put on a show” musical, is actually generic in structure.
All the tropes are brought out, much is predictable, but the fun is there
onstage…. add on a passel of clichés, natch, and a pinch of sentimental sage
humor, and this Half Time is worth your time.
at Paper Mill Playhouse 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ
through July 1st 2018.