- The Washington Times - Monday, April 11, 2005

With her big feet, long legs and wayward mouth, Sassy (Kristin Taylor) feels out of place. Everyone in dance class makes fun of Sassy, who, at 12 years old, is Tyra Banks-size in a room full of petite ballerinas.

Sassy’s dreams are bigger than her shoe size. She wants to be a dancer more than anything, in the spotlight rather than relegated to the back row. When a famous dance master comes to town, Sassy is determined to get noticed — which, in a leotard the color of Big Bird, she does with showboating leaps and jumps.

She grabs the attention of the dance master, who tells Sassy “to make your mark on the world, all you have to do is walk into a room.” In the end, Sassy towers above the other students, and not just because of her height.

“Dancing in the Wings,” a child-powered musical based on the book by Debbie Allen, is an exuberant tribute to youthful drive and the differences that make a person stronger. Everyone has insecurities about his or her looks: too tall or short, big nose, unruly hair or blotchy skin. Miss Allen’s empowering book and musical tells youngsters that what is most important is how they handle these perceived flaws. They can let the “flaws” hold them back or fuel their fire.

Sassy learns that her height and big feet are assets. In the words of her kind Uncle Redd (Jeffrey Walker), “being tall means you can see all around, so you can always find the right path to take.” For Sassy, the right path is to pursue dancing, then allow the rest of the world to catch up to her.

With a cast that includes 53 students from the Washington area, “Dancing in the Wings” revels in the blossoming talent of young people. Children ranging in age from tots to teens show off dance moves in a grab-bag variety of numbers that embrace classical music, rap and smooth jazz.

Miss Allen executes a sly, hip-hop update of the famous opening sequence of the ballet “La Bayadere,” only this time with a colony of marching ants moving down the ramp in perfect syncopated repetition.

Another dance sequence uses football drill moves to convey the hormonal energy of teenage boys. These adolescents also shine in the number “Girls,” a gentle praising of the gentler sex featuring boy-band harmonies and break-dance acrobatics.

Miss Allen and cast are much more at home with music-video-style choreography; things get shaky when the troupe performs classical ballet. The quality of the dancing varies widely, and some of the dancers seem too young to be en pointe. Most of the wobbliness has to do with immature dancers who haven’t yet learned to attack the steps with poise and control.

Miss Taylor, as Sassy, shows great promise as a classical dancer, and William Wingfield is exceptional as her partner, Sean.

As lively as the dancing is, the singing is also top-notch, especially Taylor Parks hitting the notes “American Idol” style as the narrator, Little Sassy; Mr. Walker lending Motown soul to the role of Uncle Redd; and Egheosa Igbinoba’s soaring vocals as Sassy’s encouraging Mama.

“Dancing in the Wings” is an invigorating antidote to the conventional wisdom that today’s youngsters are overstimulated couch spuds who just want to text-message and play Game Boy. This musical shows children at their best — creative, inspired and in constant, graceful motion. They deserve to be in the spotlight.

***

WHAT: “Dancing in the Wings” by Debbie Allen, music and lyrics by Andrew “Tex” Allen, James Ingram and Debbie Allen

WHERE: Terrace Theater, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

WHEN: 7:30 p.m., Tuesday and Friday; 1:30 and 7:30 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday; 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. Saturday; Through Saturday.

TICKETS: $20

PHONE: 202/467-4600

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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