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Musical production looks (Spring) Forward 

90 degrees of dance difference

You can always count on adventure when you walk into CAST off Central Avenue. All the hot computer paraphernalia is still in the lobby as the Simmonses, pére Michael and fils Robert, get set to extend the run of their dazzling dark play or stories for boys, reopening Fridays and Saturdays, May 9-31. Last weekend served as a breather. Caroline Calouche & Co. had the building for a dance program, Spring Forward, leaving the CAST boxagon intact for the host company's computer thriller and utilizing the more conventional theater space that adjoins it.

Nope, CC&C didn't leave the space as they found it. We discovered that when our friendly usher whisked us past the entrance that veers right just past the lobby and walked us around the bar to the back of the building. This was where the thrust staging area now faced instead of its usual orientation, 90° to our right. Seats that usually faced us were moved to complete the audience horseshoe on our left.

I'm guessing that necessity was the mother of this inversion because the program included three aerial dances, one of them requiring two dancers to be suspended in parallel. Anyway, the rearrangement worked nearly perfectly -- my wife Sue pointed out one corner of the floor that wasn't sufficiently lit.

Each half of the program began with one of the aerial dances, presented five pieces, and contained a number by Calouche's Youth Dance Ensemble in the middle of the lineup. Among the aerial pieces, Arthropod, danced solo by Cristina Catalani, appealed to me most with its eerie insect-like positionings. The two-person aerial, Enraged Rose, danced by Calouche and Catalani, certainly surpassed it in weirdness, and Koi, choreographed and danced by Calouche, had an exotic seductiveness, set to Japanese music featuring Yo-Yo Ma and shakahachi flute.

The two youth pieces scored about evenly on my approval meter. Evocative blue costumes in The Sea made up for the limpid music by Aborigini. Music by Antonio Vivaldi in the "Excerpt from The Taming of the Shrew" spurred livelier movement, but the Shakespeare connection was unclear.

EEMotion, featuring dancer/choreographer E.E. Balcos, carved out one slot in the program, a welcome change-of-pace called One Here, One There with music by Leos Janacek. Among the others, I found St op ti Me, set to John Adams' piano music the most intriguing. By far the most entertaining piece was Calouche's Il Gioco, a slightly risqué love triangle danced by Katie Lester, Charles Thompson and Meg Griffin.

With its tasty puppetry, costumes and scenery, Theatre Charlotte's current production of Little Shop of Horrors must be reckoned a keen disappointment. If you were able to hear all the dialogue and lyrics of last Friday's show, you had to be in it. Bridging the gulf between the stage and the audience, a strategic spot occupied by a five-piece band, sounds of the principals were often drowned by accompaniment. Microphones worn by the players only functioned intermittently.

There is talent yonder waiting to pierce through these audio woes. Newcomers Patrick Chittenden and Christina Enrico, as Seymour and Audrey, have the essence of their roles despite their diminished decibels, and Stuart Spencer will likely improve as Mushnik once he relaxes into it. The doo-wop trio of Tonya Rogers, Kecia Capers and Monica Williams occasionally betrayed fear in their eyes, but it never marred their supremely smooth vocals. Christopher Brown is best as the laughing-gas dentist, but he's still tentative in his other roles.

Most shocking of all was Matthew Corbett's funky work as Audrey 2. They're taking the microphone out of his hands and giving it to Byron J. Barr, who should work out fine for the rest of the run. But the hulking Corbett was a rapping revelation.

Who knew that Gone With the Wind could be so knee-slappingly funny? Two Jews and the Munchkin-hater who wrote, produced and directed the blockbuster Civil War screen epic turned the deathless MGM bodice ripper on its ear in North Carolina Stage Company's production of Moonlight and Magnolias.

Scott Treadway set the comedy in motion as producer David O. Selznick, shutting down filming of GWTW for the picky reason that it lacked a workable script. So he sends for ace script doctor Ben Hecht and yanks director Victor Fleming off the set of The Wizard of Oz. To combat the buzz surrounding the stoppage, Selznick decrees that the script must be ready in five days.

One fundamental problem: Hecht is the only person on the planet who has never read the massive Margaret Mitchell doorstop -- and he's not sorry about it, either. Willie Repoley was terrific as the quixotic Hecht, chiding Selznick for romanticizing the slaveholding South, stoutly resisting the inclusion of Scarlett slapping her maid, and openly mocking Mitchell.

Hecht also needles Fleming, whose Hollywood apotheosis was preceded by a stint behind the wheel of a cab. Charles McIver deftly brought out Fleming's vulgarity without sacrificing his obvious intelligence and insight. The little monologue detours into the value of director, producer and writer were all beautifully packaged by playwright Ron Hutchinson.

This was the second time this season that Asheville-based NC Stage came to the Duke Energy Theatre. We still have Lee Blessing's Chesapeake to look forward to on June 25-29. While NC Stage hasn't announced plans for the 2008-09 season, the size and reaction of last Wednesday's opening night crowd should tell them something: Sign us up!

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