- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Viewed on its own terms, Matthew Bourne’s “Edward Scissorhands” is a smash success. Viewed as part of the Kennedy Center’s ballet series, it is out in left field.

“Edward” is not a ballet, nor is it even close to one. It is an imaginative form invented by Mr. Bourne — a hybrid with the bounce of musical comedy, poignancy of wordless theater and rich imagery found in the most successful films.

The singular hero of this drama began life in Tim Burton’s 1990 film of the same name, which featured a haunting performance by Johnny Depp as “the Other” — one of society’s misfits — who had a fistful of shining scissors where his hands should have been.

Mr. Bourne is at his most imaginative in the shy, tentative, almost bumbling work he has created for Edward. At Tuesday night’s opening, Sam Archer was wonderful in the role, making Edward vivid, credible and touching, conveying through hesitant, awkward movements the timidity and loneliness of an outsider. This fully realized character was the heart of the evening’s show, standing out against a background crowd played deliberately as cartoon characters.

Much of the show’s success is due to Mr. Bourne’s canny choice of collaborators, with pride of place going to Lez Brotherston for the fluidity and high drama of his striking sets and costumes. His candy-colored Levittown row upon row of houses, dreamy backdrops and gaudy Christmas party scene give the production much of its punch.

Two of the most vivid moments of the show involve the rapacious woman at the Christmas party, dressed in a drop-dead black evening dress lined with scarlet. Earlier, the same woman emerges from one of Edward’s scissors-wielding haircuts — both designs courtesy of Mr. Brotherston.

Another highlight is a romantic pas de deux between Edward and Kim, who is torn between the town bully and the sensitive Edward. Kim was played at Tuesday’s opening by Hannah Vassalio, who stood out because she alone moved with the grace and airiness of a dancer.

All this was performed to a score that veered from romantic to jazzy, written by the movie’s composer, Danny Elfman, added to and arranged by Terry Davies, and played with verve by the Kennedy Center’s Opera House Orchestra.

The fast-paced production paints in bold strokes. The company does well what is asked of it, fleshing out brief, one-note caricatures. The big dance numbers — at a barbecue and a Christmas party — are undistinguished but generate some excitement through sheer numbers and busy-ness.

Detail seems lost in this process; at the beginning and end, a bent woman shuffles across the stage, but unless onlookers have seen the film, how would they know this is Kim as an old woman remembering a lost love?

Many things are suggested: the danger of mob passions, for example, and also our relation to the Other, whether the difference is color, religion or having scissors for hands. A pompous orator standing behind an American flag signifies a whiff of British anti-Americanism (as in Hugh Grant’s saucy taunt of the American president in “Love, Actually”). In essence, though, this is a colorful show with a gentle hero at its heart.

**1/2

WHAT: Matthew Bourne’s “Edward Scissorhands”

WHEN: Tonight through Sunday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 p.m.

WHERE: Kennedy Center Opera House

TICKETS: $29 to $84

PHONE: 202/467-4600

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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