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A CurtainUp Review
Break Out

Some of the Break Out cast members
Break Out, a new Korean slapstick comedy has just landed at the Union Square Theatre with villainous éclat. Combining the appeal of Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Chan, it makes its mark with muscular dance moves and mime. The same creative team that last gave us the martial-arts show Jump-now works its alchemy with hip hop and all its permutations..

The story is thin but intriguing: a sacred text drops into a prison yard, and its mysterious presence inspires the inmates to plot their escape and enjoy freedom. Per the title, the inmates succeed in breaking out, the SWAT guard immediately pursues, and the escapees have a tough time keeping one step ahead of the law.

This is a family-friendly show. The cops-and-robbers motif is neatly infused into an overall atmosphere of good humor and playfulness. Leaping head-high into the air or whirling in dervish fashion, the troupe.s dance moves defy gravity. It's no accident that some of Korea's leading B-Boys are in the 10-member cast.

The opening scene hasthe guard leading the inmates in a dull physical fitness routine. After a couple of minutes of repetitive jumping jacks and muscle stretches, the prisoners start clowning around and mocking the guard with counter-moves and high-jinks, turning the session into a farce. Very little happens in the way of story-line, but the mad-cap scene serves as a template for the evening, and gives us a taste of the over-the-top physical comedy in the entire production.

Dancing is at the core of this show, and the troupe has a very varied palette. What we see is sharply-etched and meticulously executed dance routines, including hip hop, gymnastics, yoga, slapstick comedy and martial arts. Not The principal dancers are the prisoners, namely Gray (Dae-Hyeok Lim), Lump (Won-Jun-Song), Dandy (Jong-Wook Jeong), Tricky (Chul-Hee Han), Joker (Yong-Nam Song), and Gundog (Jae-Hong Park). Their riotous dancing and comic grimaces are not only hilarious, but downright signs of vitality.

The prisoners escape scene is worthy of Houdini himself. The big break out is staged much like a dark game of hide-and-go-seek, with the Swat shining spotlights over the entire stage and through the audience in hopes of discovering the inmates. All is very artfully communicated—-the getup of the prisoners and SWAT guard (costumes by Hee-Ju Kim), the suitably grim-looking set (by Tae-Young Kim), the noir lighting (by Yun-Young Koo) and the sequence of top-notch dance routines. The total effect is kaleidoscopic and high-energy.

By far the funniest scene is a hilarious puppet pantomine, in which the entire troupe resembles the town fathers of Munchkinland. In this ingenious episode the performers stand behind a dark screen with their faces placed above tiny puppet bodies, and proceed to mime the prison break through a miniature tunnel, complete with sharp turns and precipitous drops. It's melodrama in the good old-fashioned sense, with the good guys vs. the bad guys, and the suspense drawn in broad dramatic strokes.

There's a bit of romance mixed into the choreographic brew. The cast has 3 young women, generically named Beauty 1 (Ji-Hee Jang), Beauty 2 (Jin-Hee Kim), and Beauty 3 (Yoon-Hui Choi), who boldly join in several scenes with the male dancers. What starts out as a kind of comic "war of the sexes" slowly evolves into a flirtatious game. These women are virtuoso dancers, like their male counterparts.

The female performers have triple duty in this production, alternately portraying vamps, nurses and nuns. While their romancing and nursing routines are quite compelling, they are most winning when they assume the religious habit of nuns and encounter the desperate inmates in church. this sacred setting has very funny scenario that transforms the altar communion bread into a source of temptation for the famished inmates and fasting nuns. True, slapstick and significance seldom get mentioned in the same breath. But in this church scene, the ridiculous and sublime get poured into the same chalice.

Director Jun-Beom has taken many choreographic risks but he seems to have a commanding sense of what works in a dance event, and consequently, keeps the 10-person cast on a sure-footed track. Whether the posse is break-dancing on stage, or zig-zagging through the orchestra in a cop-and-robbers scene, the production jells and feels dangerously right. Break Out is ultimately an explosive affirmation of freedom and life. It may be heresy to say so, but this almost non-verbal dance event is better than a lot of the other shows in town.

Break Out
Composed by Sang-Ku Kang and Uk-Hyun Lee
Directed by Jun-Beom Juen
Cast: Dae-Hyeok Lim (Grey), Won-Jun Song (Lump), Dandy (Jong-Wook Jeong), Tricky (Chul-Hee Han), Joker (Yong-Nam Song), Gundog (Jae-Hong Park), Seong-Jun Park (SWAT), Ji-Hee Jang, (Beauty 1), Jin-Hee Kim (Beauty 2), Yoon-Hui Choi (Beauty 3).
Sets: Tae-Young Kim
Costumes: Hee-Ju Kim
Sound: Yo-Chan Kim
Lighting: Yun-Young Koo
Choreographer: SevenSense Creative Team
Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission.
Union Square Theatre 100 East 17th Street. Telephone # 212/307-4100 .
From 9/18/08; opening 9/23/08; closing 10/12/08
Tuesday through Thursday @ 8pm, Friday @ 7pm & 10pm, Saturday @ 3pm & 8pm.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on September 19th press performance
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