As anyone at the Onyx Theatre will tell you, experimentation is always good.
So is collaboration. Marko Westwood, in conjunction with RagTag Entertainment, brought both to the stage on Jan. 7 and 8 with “A Little Song and Dance.” Ten choreographers joined forces with vocalists and musicians and put on the Broadway-themed concert as a benefit for education, with proceeds donated to the Miley Achievement Center in Las Vegas.
As a show, “A Little Song and Dance” was very different from the usual Onyx fair. Christopher Peterson’s renditions of Marilyn Monroe’s “I Want to be Loved By You” and Carol Channing’s “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” were about as adult as it got. (Peterson, who is behind the “Eyecons” show, changed the “diamonds” to “condoms” in the latter song, with suggestive hand gestures and altered choruses and verses to match.)
The rest of the concert was a combination of musical theater, character dance and vocals. While some of the choreography was unremarkable and a few of the transitions were rocky, the sincerity of those involved glimmered through. The vocalists especially were excellent; Ava Galore was the quintessence of the exasperated woman in “Wherever He Ain’t,” from “Mack and Mabel” and Leah Kreitz and Michael Close were fabulous as both singers and characters in “Sssssss,” which opened the show.
Collaboration between vocalists and dancers was another strong element of the performance and an intriguing aspect that could be explored more in subsequent concerts. “Brothers,” featuring dancers Jaime Velilla and Westwood himself, was performed to RagTag Entertainment’s vocals of “Will I?” from “RENT” and was as magnetic as the opener. Having the vocalists in the house while two dancers twined around each other onstage was immersing and a choreographic feat by Westwood.
“Sssssssss” was an a cappella and dynamic version of “Steam Heat” and embodied the best that the show had to offer: ingenuity, audience-friendly characters and big, belting voices. A construction worker played percussion in the background while Kreitz and Close sang from a bus stop downstage. Unexpected comedy was lent by the musical accompaniment, utilizing the likes of a balloon and a bottle of pills. Two claps at the end triggered a Clapper and laughs from the audience. Dancers Jose Favela, Jesus Nanci and Erin Sullivan showed off some stomp-style skills and tipped a fedora to Bob Fosse.
Two other numbers were Fosse-themed. “Hey There Big Fella,” to a remix of “Big Spender” was a predictable but bodacious number choreographed by Westwood that featured the usual bar downstage and sexy attitudes from the dancers. “All That Jazz,” choreographed by Serena Bartholomew, was quick and rife with smiles from the dancers, which helped mitigate sections that weren’t as clean as they could have been.
Character numbers were seen in Petrina Olson’s “Target Practice,” to a track from “Annie Get Your Gun,” and Tiffany Caudullo’s “The Harsh Truth,” to “Turn Back, Ol’ Man” from “Godspell.” Olson’s choreography, complete with fake rifles, was simultaneously tom-boy and girly, a trick that was potentially hard to pull off but well-executed. Caudullo’s choreography, featuring Westwood as Jesus, was tastefully understated. Her vocals were well-projected and the technique of accompanying dancers Anna Fazio and Adrianna Rosales was apparent.
Fazio also performed to “Look at Me Now” from “The Wild Party,” demonstrating some of the stronger technique in the show with extroverted, infectious energy. Onishia Murillo choreographed a delightful and surprisingly fresh number to “It’s a Hard Knock Life,” with herself, Bartholomew, Kreitz and Marissa Mendoza as the personality-filled orphans. “Hear Me,” to “Listen” from “Dreamgirls,” another number by Olson and danced with Nanci, was standard, perhaps overdone contemporary, but it made good use of the space and the dancers exhibited emotion well.
Two violin numbers rounded out the show. Caudullo, dressed appropriately in two different glittering gowns, performed “Show Me” from “My Fair Lady” and “Music of the Night” from “Phantom of the Opera.” Both provided visual reprieves and underscored the many hats worn by these performers.
If “A Little Song and Dance” had been a boat, a few sailors would probably have been bailing water. However, professionalism wasn’t necessarily the point here; Westwood is onto something and it isn’t girls in underwear. He’s found an under-represented genre, incredible potential in partnerships between groups and and a less visible age range to cater to, and he would do well to keep experimenting.