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A CurtainUp NJ Review
Half Time
— Tara
1/2 time
Photo: Donna McKechnie (photo credit Jerry Dalia)
How often have we heard someone over sixty years old say, When you becomea senior you become invisible? That may be all too true in some circles, but the seniors who audition to dance in the center court in the new musical Half Time are determined to make themselves visible in amost exciting and inspiring way.

Basing their musical on a true event and significantly on Dori Berinstein's documentary about the NETSationals, collaborators Bob Martinand Chad Beguelin (book), Matthew Sklar (music) with lyrics by Nell Benjamin and with Jerry Mitchell serving masterly as director and choreographer have devised a charming and disarming entertainment.

This musical heartwarmingly embraces rather than mocks the marketing gimmick as originally devised by National Basketball Association to essentially give the spectators a laugh at half-time. Recruiting through auditions an eager team of still agile if also questionably able seniorsto learn the physically demanding Hip-Hop routines, the management of the New Jersey Cougars do not have a clue what they are in for when push gets to shove.

The show basically allows the audience to follow the principal players,all seniors, through the process of learning strenuous routines. Think of a geriatric A Chorus Line and you may get a glimmer of the anxieties and the issues that each recruit has to deal with in order to remain a value to the team. Part of the show's pleasure is seeing these geriatrics progress from pathetic to fantastic. Don't think for a minute that casting may have been a handicap. You won't find a slacker in thiscompany of pros.

If you are looking for headliners,there is the oh so slick and suave Andre De Shields as a grieving widower; a hilarious Georgia Engel, whose born-to-rap character channels dual personalities; a sensational Lillias White, as a no-nonsense dancing grandma trying to keep her equilibrium while dealing with her rebellious granddaughter (an excellent Nkeki Obi-Melekwe). There is an exhilarating echo of the original A Chorus Line's Cassie with that role's originator Donna McKechnie, as a privileged, retired suburbanite who once danced in a Broadway show.

Though we are inclined to root from the start in anticipation of a rousing finale, Half Time does occasionally sputter and stall during the first half. It takes a little too much time for the nine principals to get through their obligatory getting-to-know-me posturing. Winning as they are, some are unfortunately stereotyped characters. Rising above this is Nancy Ticotinas a fiery Latina in the Chita Rivera mold who performs a sexy, show-stopping Paso Doble partnered by an also terrific Alexander Aguilar. De Shields is an audience favorite from the start and wins our hearts and also that of the delightful Engel singing and dancing to the musical's most memorable ballad "The Prince of Swing." It is surprising that he is the only male among the women recruits. A totally different type of male-persona would have added more diversity to the mix.

Sklar and Benjamin's bright and bouncy score fulfills its duties without being much more than that. That's with the exception of the above songwritten by Marvin Hamlisch, whose untimely death upended the original plan for him to compose the entire show.

The projected announcements of the number of days until show time slow the pace down. But kudos to the vivid projections throughout by designer Jason Lee Courson; also to sound designer Randy Hansen who made sure we hear the snappy lyrics.

The rehearsals are filled to the brim with Mitchell's often comically interpreted hip-hop dance vocabulary. For plot, there is a running conflict between Tara the team's coach (Haven Burton) and an NBA executive (Tracy Jai Edwards) over whether the aggressively rehearsed but determined team and their arduous routine should prevail — or be replaced with the old folks riding aroundin circles on scooters. We can easily guess how that turns out.

For the finale, director Mitchell fills the stage with some youthful dancers who do their best to keep up with the hip-hopping seniors, as smartly dressed in haute hip hop. David Rockwell's scenic designs, include the use of mirrors that pay notable homage to A Chorus Line. But it is that eye-filling finale set within a hugestadium replete with bleachers filled with thousands of cheering fans that make us glad the Half Time collaborators saw fit to have that Me-Too spotlight shine down brightly on these incomparable seniors.It's possible we could see this spirited troupe hip-hop their way straight to Broadway.

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Half Time
Book by Bob Martin & Chad Beguelin
Music by Matthew Sklar and Lyrics by Nell Benjamin
Directed and Choreographed by Jerry Mitchell

Cast of Principals: Alexander Aguilar (Announcer, Fernando , Ensemble), Sydni Beaudoin (Judith, Female TV Host, Ensemble), Haven Burton (Tara), Lori Tan Chinn (Mae), Andre De Shields (Ron), Madeleine Doherty (Estelle), Tracy Jai Edwards (Alison Prager), Georgia Engel (Dorothy/Dottie), Talya Groves (Ensemble), Mary Claire King (Jenny), Donna McKechnie (Joanne), Lenora Nemetz (Fran), Nkeki Obi-Melekwe (Kendra), Nancy Ticotin (Camilla), Garrett Turner (Announcer, Anthony, Interviewer, Male TV Host, Ensemble), Kay Walbye (Muriel) Lillias White (Bea)
Scenic Design: David Rockwell
Costume Design: Gregg Barnes
Lighting Design: Kenneth Posner
Sound Design: Randy Hansen
Projection Design: Jason Lee Courson
Production Stage Manager: Jason Broullard
Orchestrations: Larry Hochman
Musical Director: Charlie Alterman
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes including intermission
Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, N.J.
Performances: Wednesday at 7:30 pm, Thursday at 1:30 and 7:30 pm, Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 1:30 pm and 8 pm, Sunday at 1:30 and 7 pm
From 05/31/18 Opened 6/12/18 Ends 07/01/18
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 6/12/18 NJ Theaters
NJ Theatre Alliance
Discount Tix Information

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