'Pulse' at Asolo in Sarasota is a joy

Old-fashioned song-and-dance (with modern touches) still delights audiences

mclear@bradenton.comMay 31, 2013 

Lauralyn McClelland and Noah Racey star in "Pulse." John Revisky/publicity photo

The idea behind "Pulse," which is having its world-premiere run at the Asolo Repertory Theatre, is to put a modern face on traditional American song and dance.

It doesn't fully achieve that particular goal. The result is something more old-fashioned than one might expect, but no less entertaining.

"Pulse" was created by Broadway singer-tap dancer Noah Racey. He has said he wanted his show to be to tap dancing what "Stomp" has been to drumming.

"Pulse" doesn't have the aggression or iconoclasm of "Stomp," but it more than compensates with joy, elegance and virtuosity.

The 90-minute show consists of a corps of six performers (including the charismatic Racey) who sing and dance to 13 songs written by everyone from Irving Berlin and Cole Porter to Regina Spektor and Keb' Mo'. A great and very versatile seven-piece on-stage band backs them up and occasionally joins in the dance. Except for a couple of very cool raps by Racey and some interesting percussion segments, it mostly feels familiar.

But that doesn't mean the show doesn't work. The numbers are loads of fun, the singing is solid and the grace and precision of the dancing is astounding.

Racey's choreography is joyous throughout, and the entire cast is fun to watch.

The show works best, of course, when the songs are great. Numbers danced to Frank Loesser's "Once in Love With Amy" and Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin" fare better than one set to Hall & Oates' "Rich Girl."

There's no plot to the show, but it does have a subtle arc and builds toward a frenetic penultimate song (Berlin's "Drum Crazy") and hip-hop flavored rap by Racey about tics he experienced as child that helped develop his love for rhythm. (During the show, each cast member shares a personal story -- maybe fictional but ostensibly true -- about his or her upbringing in music. Only Racey's is compelling.)

The lighting design by Michael Gilliam is inconsistent. Early in the show the stage is harshly and indiscriminately lit, and gives the show an amateurish feeling, even with the virtuosic dancing that's going on. Later the lighting becomes softer and evocative, and really lovely. Perhaps there's a reason Gilliam made those choices but it's not apparent.

If you're looking for something daring, or something that will alter your world view or turn your non-traditionalist friends onto tap dancing, this isn't it. But if you're a fan of the classic American art of song and dance, if you love watching Fred Astaire or "Singin' in the Rain" on AMC, then "Pulse" is pretty close to heaven.

Details: Through June 16 at Asolo Rep's Mertz Theatre at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, 8 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $55-$69. Information: 941-351-8000, www.asolorep.org.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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