‘On Your Toes’ Salutes Balanchine; Bollywood Love: Review

It’s hard to remember a time when “Encores!” wasn’t an essential part of the city’s cultural landscape.

City Center’s invaluable series concludes its 20th season of Broadway shows in concert with “On Your Toes,” a Rodgers and Hart jujube notable in 1936 for its George Balanchine choreography. The songs -- among them “It’s Got to be Love,” “There’s a Small Hotel,” “Quiet Night” and “Too Good for the Average Man” -- weren’t half bad, either.

Warren Carlyle’s staging reveals the strengths and weaknesses of the Encores program when taking on as complicated a contraption as this one.

It’s about Junior, the dancing son of a vaudeville duo, who grows up to become a staid music teacher. Until, that is, the pull of music and tap shoes, a moony student named Frankie and a high-strung prima ballerina Vera conspire to draw him back into show business.

Three big dances (“La Princesse Zenobia Ballet,” the title number and “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue”) stop the comedy live in its tracks to show off Richard Rodgers’s phenomenal musical vocabulary and Balanchine’s thrilling response to it.

“On Your Toes” demands the seamless flow of Broadway hoofing and classical dancing. The abbreviated Encores! rehearsal schedule isn’t built for such demands.

Bangless Bucking

There was little chemistry between Shonn Wiley’s blandly earnest Junior and Kelli Barrett’s plaintive Frankie. Even less between him and the slinky Vera of Irina Dvorovenko, whose performance catches fire too late. The ensemble tap dancing was competent without being percussively transcendent, while the ballet sometimes had me worrying about the dancers’ safety.

Looking soigne and aloof as the ballet troupe’s bankroll and impresario respectively, veterans Christine Baranski and Walter Bobbie seemed to be working harder than usual to win our affection.

The evening’s high point, in addition to hearing those wonderful songs backed by Rob Fisher conducting the Encores! orchestra, was the title number, a blissful slam between Broadway and ballet dancers that still delights. For those happy minutes alone, Encores was worth celebrating.

Through May 12 at City Center, 131 W. 55th St. Information: +1-212-581-1212; http://www.nycitycenter.org. Rating: ***

‘Bunty Berman’

The adventurous New Group concludes a rough season with “Bunty Berman Presents...,” a tuneful kiss blown to 1950s Bollywood (before Bombay became Mumbai) with book and lyrics by Ayub Khan Din and music by Khan Din and Paul Bogaev.

The comedy concerns a movie director (played by Khan Din, stepping in when the leading man was injured) whose aging matinee-idol star (Sorab Wadia) is fizzling at the box office and the studio is about to go under. Enter a monied mobster (Alok Tewari) whose son (Raja Burrows) has designs on the studio.

The sprawling show is a homage to the films that packaged Hollywood-style musicals in socially correct but satisfyingly soapy Indian romances.

But “Bunty Berman,” over-broadly staged by Scott Elliott and choreographed by Josh Prince, isn’t clever enough and the pastiche score isn’t original enough to make the enterprise land as much more than sentimental and derivative. It’s a half-charming revue sketch blown way out of proportion.

Through June 1 at the Acorn Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St. Information: +1-212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com. Rating: **

What the Stars Mean:

*****  Fantastic
****   Excellent
***    Good
**     So-So
*      Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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