For a while, it seemed as if swing was on its last leg. The Gap had stopped using Lindy Hoppers to sell its khakis. Those zoot-suited bands that had won over the MTV demographic vanished from the Billboard pop charts. Even local bars that were attracting clientele with the lure of free East Coast swing lessons had returned to the standard-issue beer-DJ format.
Then along came a Broadway show called, simply, "Swing!" - the exclamation point punctuating not only its infectious energy, but its steadfast determination to stay in the spotlight. As it triple-stepped into Shea's Performing Arts Center on Tuesday for a six-day run, the Tony-nominated song-and-dance revue reminded audiences why, in the hearts of many, swing will always be king. As referential as "Swing!" is toward the steps that originated at the Savoy ballroom, Lynn Taylor-Corbett's dynamic choreography is infused with enough contemporary moves to underscore the dance's modern appeal. In one venue a cowboy twirls his partner during a revved-up West Coast swing. Another features a scorching Latin-infused swing performed sharply by Lisa and Gary McIntyre. In the certain crowd-pleaser "Bill's Bounce," swing goes to the circus as two women harnessed to elastic wires leapfrog toward the rafters. As if they didn't have enough swing in their step.
"Swing!" bills itself as a musical, but don't expect a plot from this two-hour shimmy. While many dramas unfold during the course of some of the 30 dances - most of which is about loss and gain - the primary goal is to prove how neatly this social dance's twists, turns and jumps can be converted to a theatrical spectacular.
And that it does with the help of the tight neo-swing combo blazing out tunes at the back of the stage. "Swing's!" versatile swingers - Rick Cornette, Erin Davie, Clarolyn Maier and Charles Statham - take the audience on a sentimental journey with such immediately recognizable favorites as "Skylark," "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" and "Stompin' at the Savoy." Of this group, Maier stands out for her faithful and heartfelt rendition of "I'll Be Seeing You" and Statham for his comical take on square-dance calling in "Boogie-Woogie Country."
Indeed, the show peaks when all three elements - instrumental, vocal and dance - are working together. This happens in the first-act finale, which takes audiences to a USO dance complete with wallflowers and broken hearts. In number after number, the music and moves feed off each other. At times, they even seduce each other. When Erin Davie belts out "Cry Me a River," trombonist Marshall Gilkes is right by her side, sliding his, er, instrument the length of her white satin gown. In "Harlem Nocturne," Michelle Marmolejo performs a sinewy slow dance with a cello as her partner.
It's tough deciding which elements of "Swing!" are most colorful, but a nod must be given to the costumes. From military uniforms and waitress duds to lacy anklets and electric-green neckties, the fashion runs the gamut from functional to frivolous. Few shows can claim to have raided the wardrobes of "Fosse," "42nd Street" and the U.S. military, but "Swing!" can.
It can also put a silly grin on your face with its unabashed romanticism. There are moments when "Swing!" gets a little too cute for its own good; thankfully, they are few and far between. The rest of the time, you may find yourself aching to get off your seat and jitterbug.
And who knows? After the joint stops jumpin' at Shea's, maybe the Lindy will make a comeback at all those downtown bars.
Touring Broadway production
Starring: Clarolyn Maier.
7:30 p.m. today through Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday.
Admission: $22.50 to $52.50