From our Newsletter: September 2006

“Matthew Bourne’s
Edward Scissorhands in Tokyo

Reviewed by Larry Billman
(Currently in Japan for Disney and President of the Academy of Dance on Film in Los Angeles)

On Saturday, Sept. 2nd, my wife and I saw a matinee performance of Matthew Bourne’s “Edward Scissorhands” in Tokyo. The choreography? It must have been perfect as it created moods, delineated character, told the story, made me smile, laugh, sigh and cry, and appeared seamless. I was never suddenly awed by a “trick” or “exercise.” I would pay money to see Bourne stage the telephone book and feel that “Scissorhands” should be required viewing for every dancer, actor, choreographer and director.

And now for the questions…which I would love to hear responses/reactions to. Warning: there are SPOILERS! Proceed at your own risk.

Like all of his work, it is brilliant, but for me has some conceptual disconnects. As most of my life has been spent working in the vernacular of musical theater, I believe it should have been a musical, for it cries out for song and some dialog. I feel it would have had been a more ultimately successful piece if all the other characters sang and spoke and only using Edward as the mute dancer. When “Finian’s Rainbow” included a character who did not speak (“Susan the Silent”) it was revolutionary. This production could have used and benefited from the same impact.

The show is constructed in actual musical numbers, which are classic “musical theater.” In a Japanese newspaper interview, Matthew stated that the original writer and director of the film, Tim Burton, did not want it to be a musical. Matthew is also a very clever businessman and knows that all dance pieces need no translation and can be successful all over the world. It is sold-out in Japan.

The cast is incredible, creating detailed characters through all sorts of movement: jazz, tap, ballet, character, social dance. Bourne and Burton also rewrote the back story, which, at first, my wife and I had a difficult time grasping as we recently watched the film to refresh our memories. This new Prologue (which contains the first four scenes of the show) ends when Edward leaves his lonely mansion and wanders into town, where “Peg Boggs” (who was originally a slightly ditzy Avon Lady) finds him rummaging through trash. Again, this may be a purposeful choice when Burton and Bourne asked themselves if international audiences would know what an “Avon Lady” is. For us, it lessened the importance and spiritual generosity of her role, as she seems to arbitrarily invite him into her house and the family.

The meeting of Edward and Kim (played by Winona Ryder in the film) is also not as well defined as in the film. He sleeps in her room, participates in a delicious dream ballet with images of Kim as a cheerleader coming to life, creates Topiary gardens, and they finally meet at a backyard barbecue! “Where was she this whole time?” I kept asking myself. Anyway, I think there are some confusing story points, but it is obvious that Burton and Bourne intended to “re-invent it.”

Where it finally works is the Dream Ballet that closes Act One. Edward loses his scissorhands and can actually dance with Kim in the “Topiary Ballet.” Agnes DeMille would be proud, as it is everything a “Dream” ballet should be. This fanciful dream has them dancing with Living Topiary – a great idea.

Like all of Bourne’s endings, he is the ultimate showman and he “gets” you at the finale. Kim – now an old lady – is wandering the night, remembering, and Edward is seen in shadows. As she swells with memories, it begins to snow. Get out the hankies. It received a standing ovation, which is very rare for Japanese audiences. “Unrequited love” is a theme that the mostly-female audience deeply understands.

Not being certain which dancer was performing which role (arggh) the young man who played “Edward” (Sam Archer or Richard Winsor) truly evoked the innocent pathos of the character and channeled Johnny Depp. I know that “Kim” was played by the miraculous Kerry Biggin, whose face I memorized when I saw her in “Highland Fling.” To see her playing an almost-ordinary American teenager on the verge of becoming a woman – after having had her break my heart as the quirky, sexy and doomed “Sylph” in “Fling” – convinced me of her talent and versatility.

There was a young boy sitting next to my wife who got very confused during the seduction number in which “Joyce Monroe,” the red-headed desperate housewife, tries to get Edward into her bed. He kept asking his mother (in Japanese) what was happening. For what Bourne calls “A Family Friendly” show, it is much too long and graphic. We “Get” it, but Bourne drags it on and has it end with her sitting on a washing machine having an orgasm. Hey – I work for Disney and our family-friendly guidelines stop short of bodily functions. For the adults in the audience it is rude and funny. For young children, it takes what was only suggested in the film and presents very “Adult” nuances, probably making them squirm in their seats. It also makes “Joyce’s” role more prominent that I think it should be. Again, not knowing exactly which actress played the role at the performance we saw (Michela Meazza or Mikah Smillie) whoever she was, she was incredible.

He also softens the villain, “James,” by not having him hunt down and try to kill Edward. Instead, Bourne’s version has Edward mistakenly stab him at the climactic “Annual Christmas Ball.” I’d love to hear what the musical and movement inspiration for Bourne for this number was, as I found it to be a direct lift of “Sluefoot” from the Fred Astaire/Leslie Caron film version of “Daddy Long Legs,” with the composer, Terry Davies, even quoting the song. It didn’t bother me, as I am the only person in the audience who probably ties the two numbers together. And my feelings are that if you are going to “lift” to tap into collective memories, do it from the best. Bourne has publically stated that his youthful dreams were all driven by the Movie Musical. The choreography and staging of the number also reminds us of “Dance at the Gym” from “West Side,” so it is a complex and energetic mix-and-meld of characters and story illustrated through dance.

No, no more harping. It is mostly moments of brilliance, an incredible cast of dancing actors, Lez Brotherson once again creates a unique world of design, projections and magical effects and it is thought-provoking and emotionally entertaining. Bourne seems to have assembled a unparalled creative and performance company. What more could we ask for? It comes the closest to the innovative impact of “West Side Story” because of the non-stop dance performed by a cast of brilliant people.

I strongly suggest that you all see it. A ballet? No. Perhaps a “Dance Scenario”? A “Movement Musical”? Bourne is my “Great Hope.” Not Twyla Tharp.