Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 27, 2023

REVIEW: Playhouse on Park, "stop/TIME dance MACHINE"

Playhouse on Park, West Hartford, CT
March 24-April 2, 2023
by C. L. Blacke

photo by Zee Rubin
Stop/TIME Dance MACHINE is not just a string of hit-and-run dance routines; it’s a time-
travelling extravaganza. With its cohesive and imaginative storyline, the 18th annual all-original stop/time dance theater production features comedy, singing, and of course, dancing as award-winning choreographer Darlene Zoller disappears into a time machine seeking inspiration. Left behind, her dancers are forced to send delegate parties into the space-time continuum to find their fearless leader.

As the resident dance company of Playhouse on Park, stop/time dance theater is made up of 15 dancers and singers with full-time jobs and families, who dedicate their free time to doing what they love. And it shows in a big way. Each member commits to their role not only in nailing their steps but in their facial expressions as well. It’s hard to tell who’s having more fun—the dancers or the audience.

The program opens in a flurry of pirouettes with two numbers both before and after Darlene’s disappearance. David Lewis’s science lab set design features a backdrop of buttons, keyboards, junction boxes, and, of course, the time machine door. With delegates off on adventure, singer/dancer Victoria (Tori) Mooney stays behind to figure out a way to bring them all home safely. Visible at all times, the set anchors the storyline to the present day and creates a sense of urgency as scenes with Tori manning the controls are interspersed throughout, including one with her hilarious rendition of “Baby One More Time”.

Dance styles run a nonlinear gamut from a turn of the (20th) century synchronized swimming routine to a prehistoric tribal rhythm dance, from the 1920s Charleston to a futuristic “Dance Apocalyptic”.

Audience favorites include the foot-stomping, hand clapping, finger-snapping tap routines to “Sing, Sing, Sing” and “In the Mood”, as well as the heartfelt Act II opening duet, “We Are Never Getting Back Together”, sung by Amanda Forker and Rick Fountain. But by far, the standout full-group number, complete with MTV theme song and astronaut, is the Act I closer “Smooth Criminal”, a dance tribute to Michael Jackson performed in 1930s gangster suits and fedoras.

Will Darlene reunite with her dancers? Does she find inspiration? Or is she just out of time? These answers will only be revealed by attending this annual production worthy of many standing ovations.