“I applaud the Kennedy Center for being brave, being part of creating a brand-new musical,” Susan Stroman says, calling the art institution’s support of Little Dancer the kind of thing you very rarely see in a time of less-risky revivals and movie adaptations. “It’s a miracle when a new musical gets up, just because of the finances…. It is difficult to get investors to believe in something new.”
Certainly having the Tony Award-winning Stroman (The Producers, Crazy for You) on board as director and choreographer helps sell this particular show, created by the same team behind last decade’s Kennedy Center gamble, Ragtime — writer Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty. Also aiding the cause is Stroman’s lifelong fascination with the subject matter.
“As a dancer, you grow up with that image on your Christmas cards and your birthday cards,” she says of 19th century artist Edgar Degas’s famous sculpture, “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen.” “It’s very much a part of your entire life as a dancer.” A native of Wilmington, Del., Stroman grew up wanting to be a choreographer and wondering about the little ballerina who posed for the sculpture. Now she’s worked with Ahrens and Flaherty to tell the girl’s story — with some creative license — as well as that of Degas, specifically the famous painter’s first foray into the sculpture medium. Turns out, the work was so harshly criticized in its day, Degas removed it from public view and stashed it in his closet, were it collected dust for decades until well after his death. And the dancer named Marie? She was eventually dismissed by the Paris Opera Ballet and never heard from again.
Little Dancer stars two of Broadway’s leading lights, Boyd Gaines and Rebecca Luker, as well as New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck as young Marie. The show combines musical theater, visual art and classical ballet in a way that Stroman calls unique. And it couldn’t start in a better locale, as the work of art that inspired the show is on permanent display at the National Gallery of Art across town. As Stroman notes, “It’s quite moving to see the show and then go see the original sculpture, the one that has Degas’s fingerprints all over it.”
Little Dancer runs to Nov. 30, at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. Tickets are $45 to $155. Call 202-467-4600 or visit kennedy-center.org.
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