By Tim O’Shei
NEWS CONTRIBUTING REVIEWER
It was the fast-food version of “Dancing with the Stars”: tasty in small bites, served up to a crowd that swallowed every last morsel, and one that especially liked the most prominent packaging: a shirtless Val Chmerkovskiy.
It was a happy meal, but not necessarily a substantive one.
The “Dancing with the Stars: Live!” tour opened its seven-week tour Saturday night in the Seneca Niagara Events Center. The capacity crowd reacted enthusiastically to the dance pros from the ABC show. They were excited to meet the most recent DWTS winner, Alfonso Ribeiro of “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” fame, who served as the host.
They laughed at the jokes (most, anyhow) and squealed at the sight of the bearded, square-jawed Chmerkovskiy (especially when he was shirtless, which was virtually the whole show).
By every measure, the crowd walked out happy. But if they came for a night of intensive dancing, or if they came expecting to spend an evening with celebrities who they came to know more intimately from the show’s 10 years on air, the evening didn’t quite match up.
Let’s start with the stars – or star, as in singular: The tour show’s sole non-dance celebrity is Ribeiro, who spent much of the evening engaged in banter with Witney Carson, the dance partner with whom he won DWTS’ mirrorball trophy.
Ribeiro, who still projects his circa-“Fresh Prince” Carlton persona, is comfortable on stage and has the give-and-take presence of a stand-up comedian. Not all of his punch lines got gut laughs from the crowd, but many did, and we can give him a pass on those that missed. This was the first night of tour, and from my end, it was interesting to see a show that is still developing.
Any rawness in presentation – and there wasn’t much – was complemented by energy that gave the show a fresh feel. To me, this was especially apparent during a Q&A session Ribeiro held with the seven headlining dancers: Chmerkovskiy, Carson, Kym Johnson, Emma Slater, Mark Ballas, Keo Motsepe and Sasha Farber. Admittedly this is the inquisitive journalist in me speaking, but I enjoyed seeing the dancers struggle a bit to describe their favorite celebrity partners and characterize their competitiveness.
It felt like a real interview, not a rehearsed one, and it was one of the most revealing aspects of the show.
Here’s another: Ballas, along with singer-songwriter Dylan Chambers, played multiple guitar numbers, including a cowboy-themed Latin piece with Chmerkovskiy adding a punchy and sometimes plucky violin. It was a small window into the depth of talent these dancers have as performers. Ballas, for instance, has recorded an EP. And Chmerkovskiy’s explosive stage presence – when he dances and when he speaks – is both flirty and deep. Somebody book the guy a chick-flick gig, fast.
Notice, however, I’ve said little about the dancing itself. That’s because it can be summed up simply, perhaps too much so: The dancing was pristine; nearly flawless, really, which is to be expected when you take world-class dancers and match them together, as opposed to pairing them with celebrities. Sitting next to me was a University at Buffalo theater student who was wowed by the technique, loved the simple props (a rolling doorway for one number, a draped bedroom window for another), and appreciated how the relatively simple two-tiered stage gave the performers plenty of space to showcase their choreography.
So what, then, lacked? The package just needed a bit more depth.
Either explain the dances by revealing the inspiration behind the choreography, or tell the story of that particular ballroom style.
Or go in the opposite direction and book more celebrities. Load the star power and re-create more numbers from DWTS’ 19 seasons.
The producers don’t have to do these things. Either way, fans will leave satisfied for the next seven weeks.
But make it a little meatier and they’ll feel a lot fuller.