Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Review: A Suburban Showgirl Balances Life and Art

Palmer Davis as the Suburban Showgirl

The challenge of balancing a career as a professional dancer with motherhood is the dilemma at the heart of Palmer Davis’ one woman show Suburban Showgirl. Based on many of her own experiences, the likable San Diego native has created an ambitious solo show populated with characters from her life – all presented by Davis as her stage persona, Wendy Walker.

Accompanied by Ross Källing on the piano, she tells her tale in flashback while trapped in a backstage Las Vegas bathroom, a humorous device that allows her to unexpectedly appear and reappear in various locations in the theater as if by magic. Her stories reveal the optimistic dreams of a woman whose tenacity keeps her on track, even as the fraying edges of her personal life begin to unravel. 

A story about her awkward youth culminates in a ballet sequence done so effortlessly that it leaves the audience speechless. Her college dance instructor’s advice to “stop being a student and just be an artist,” when her dance partner fails to show up, results in a compelling one-person modern dance, barefoot and accompanied by the beat of a drum (of course), that is strong and full of hilarious nods to the genre. Dancers will especially appreciate the nuances of the humor but you don’t need to be a dancer to get it. Her dead-serious interpretation and proficiency with the style make it a showstopper.

A national tour of The Will Rogers Follies and productions of 42nd Street and Can-Can also keep her going before she eventually lands a stint with the Rockettes. In between she re-enacts day job gigs teaching dance to kids and teens, though these are drawn out over a few too many scenes. I’m also not convinced that the director’s decision to have Davis act out all the parts in every scene – an exercise that is technically proficient but feels “acted”– is the best way to tell the story. Its effect, for me, was distancing.

Id rather see her expand the flashes of deeper emotion she revealed only briefly having to do with her alcoholic ex-husband. That layer would add a richer texture to the piece that could be extremely interesting and make her successes even more meaningful.

Davis is most satisfying in her brilliant dance sequences where she shows off years of dance training in styles that also include tap, tango, some intentionally funny hip hop, and glamorous film recreations that are an homage to her childhood idol, Cyd Charisse. These are sincere moments when she connects with the life of her art and communicates it fully. If her monologues were delivered with the same ease and sincerity she expresses in her dancing…well, that would be the icing on this Ta-Da girl’s cake.

SUBURBAN SHOWGIRL
Through August 4, 2013
Written by Palmer Davis
Music & Lyrics by Ross Källing
Directorial/Choreographic Contributions by Keith Young
NoHo Arts Center
11136 Magnolia Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA 91601
Tickets: (323) 960-7740 
www.suburbanshowgirl.com

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Comedy Faceposted by Ellen Dostal, MusicalsInLA @
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