By Miriam Felton-Dansky
By Lilly Lampe
By R. C. Baker
By Tom Sellar
By Alexis Soloski
By Molly Grogan
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"I'm such a bad dancer. I so respect people who can dance," groans Alex Timbers. Luckily, the 30-year-old artistic director and chief impresario of Les Freres Corbusier has rounded up 53 other people to bust their moves for Dance Dance Revolution—the downtown theater group's latest genre-bending show.
Despite the name, Les Freres are not French and not related. Previous projects have included Ibsen with robots (Heddatron), a musical fantasia about urban planner Robert Moses (Boozy), and a kids' tribute to L. Ron Hubbard (A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant). Hell House (2006), the group's most recent New York production, was based on a didactic script used by fundamentalist churches.
Dance Dance Revolution, which begins December 3 at the Ohio Theatre, was faintly inspired by the try-it-at-home dance game of the same name. "There are these arrows on the ground—it really feels like that American Idol/Guitar Hero kind of thing," says Timbers, who has never actually stepped on the foot pad but found the name amusing. "You are the star."
Observing Hollywood's film versions of other games, Timbers realized he wanted to expand the genre to the stage—no matter what. "The idea of trying to emulate the quality of a video game in a theater seemed like something that was completely ready to fail," he says. "I found that interesting and kind of funny."
Although this new live comedy reproduces some dance choreography from the game, the ensemble has devised a completely original storyline, alluding to West Side Story and Footloose, among other "let-the-kids-dance" musicals. Dance Dance Revolution follows the plight of street toughs (think: The Warriors) in a dystopian future state, in which dance has been outlawed. A magical alien named Moonbeam Funk beams into town, blossoms as a dance prophet, and leads the charge against the no-dancing government—which brands him a charlatan.
"The show culminates with this Thunderdome sequence, like, Mad Max–style," Timbers adds, laughing at a comic narrative he calls deliberately sophomoric. "There are people climbing all these walls around you, and it's like this death-sport Rollerball thing. And there's a trampoline dance-off between the dancers and the police." To realize this quixotic vision, Les Freres hunkered down in a Brooklyn warehouse, where they prepared layers of plastic sheeting to help convert the Ohio into a 60-foot-deep "fully immersive, bombed-out discotheque environment."
Don't expect to settle into a chair and leaf through the program. The audience gets wristbands and beer, and everyone perches on scaffolding.
And then there's the music. There will be three original songs by Gary Adler (Altar Boyz) and Phoebe Kreutz, nodding to Ziggy Stardust, Pippin, and other '70s influences. But the show's thumping pulse comes from the Japanese rave music sometimes used in the game as a plug-in. "This music, I swear to you, it's like so insane," Timbers says. "It's rave music for small children. Imagine a baby CD of 'Puff the Magic Dragon' but with, like, rave remix."
With approximately 20 production numbers, from call-and-response to riot sequences, it's clear that Les Freres does not subscribe to the less-is-more school of dramaturgy. The director reflects: "When you have 53 people dancing in unison, it's a thin line between being horrible and overwhelming, and being visceral and electric and exciting and joyful. And it has to be the second. It can't be the first."
Unsure exactly of what they've put together, for the moment Timbers and company are just sticking to the beat.