Direction & Choreography by Joey McKneely; book by Randall David Cook; music and lyrics by Julia Frodah, Maxim Moston, and Karen Bishko
Reviewed by Robert Viagas
Broadway director/choreographer Joey McKneely (Smokey Joe’s Café) has put his personal stamp on a great first draft for a dancing musical, titled Shadows, being showcased Off-Off Broadway. If he brings the first two hours of the show up to the spine-tingling last 15 minutes, he could have a hit on his hands.
Shadows is the story of an unhappily married woman named Claire (Janine DiVita) who is trying to sell a spooky old apartment she inherited from her grandmother. Claire is very attracted to Alex (John Arthur Greene), the hard-charging and hunky real-estate salesman who is handling the sale—and soon is handling Claire as well.
But Claire has a secret to share. Something happened in that apartment long ago. Not just a murder, but three murders plus a suicide, all involving her ancestor. The apartment is haunted by their ghosts, and this is where McKneely really makes his mark and creates the central conceit of this musical. The ghosts (the tender Irina Dvorovenko, the graceful Waldemar Quinones-Villanueva, the brooding Nickmil Concepcion, and the jagged Naomi Kakuk) are portrayed entirely through McKneely’s balletic choreography.
After we learn the backstory behind the quadruple tragedies, the granddaughter and her lover gradually begin to relive the events leading up to the terrible past.
It’s a bold and ambitious idea for a musical. The problem is that, as written by librettist Randall David Cook, the dead characters always seem more interesting and distinctive than their rather generic and non-dancing descendants. DiVita, who has Broadway credits in revivals of Anything Goes and Grease, and Greene, who was featured in the last season of American Idol, have real chemistry and appeal, but aren’t given much in the way of a backstory to develop their characters.
Things finally get interesting in last minutes of the musical, building to a startling and truly creepy final twist. That kind of tension needs to start building from the show’s first moments, but doesn’t yet.
Julia Frodah (of the band Edison Woods), contributed songs to the busy score, along with Maxim Moston and Karen Bishko). Perhaps with better orchestrations the beauties of the score will become more apparent.
Shadows is scheduled to play at the Connelly Theatre, 220 East 4thStreet in Manhattan through December 15.