“Half Time” proves that age is only a number

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"Half Time" with Nancy Ticotin as Camilla at Paper Mill Playhouse. Photo by Jerry Dalia
Paper Mill Playhouse has another hit to end the season

The Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn closes its 2017-2018 season with a new musical, Half Time. Like the group of senior citizens it follows, Half Time starts out slow but blossoms into energetic life. It is a worthy addition to Paper Mill’s roster of hits this season.

Based on the documentary Gotta Dance, the show chronicles a group of seniors recruited by a professional basketball team as halftime entertainment. The oldsters are expected to perform a strenuous hip-hop routine but have only a short time to learn it. Their dance coach not only has to whip her new performers into shape but also has to fend off a management who sees the elders as a comic-relief freak show.

"Half Time" at Paper Mill Playhouse. Photo by Jerry Dalia
“Half Time” at Paper Mill Playhouse. Photo by Jerry Dalia

Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin’s book starts off slow, matching the pace of the seniors as they are thrust into a new environment and dance style. As the show goes on, the pace picks up with the seniors gaining a sense of teamwork and self-confidence they didn’t realize possible. The seniors’ tenacity inspires confidence within their coach and the cheerleading squad, finally convincing the corporate bosses that they are more than a publicity stunt.

The score by Matthew Sklar and Nell Benjamin is by turns witty, energetic, tuneful, and romantic. Highlights include “The Waters Rise”, an emotionally gripping number about a wife watching her husband’s slow decline; “¿Como No?”, about a woman in a sexual relationship with a much younger man; and “Swagger”, where the group starts to bond as a team and get the hang of hip-hop. Two songs with music by the late Marvin Hamlisch, “Dorothy/Dotty” and “The Prince of Swing”, are also pleasers, as is the finale, “Gotta Get Up”, to which Ester Dean contributed.

Jerry Mitchell gets the most out of his talented cast

Director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell gets the most out of his talented cast. Tony Award winners André de Shields, Georgia Engel, Donna McKechnie, and Lillias White as Ron, Dorothy, Joanne, and Bea expertly lead the cast. They are supported by Broadway veterans Lori Tan Chinn, Nancy Ticotin, and Lenora Nemetz. Haven Burton turns in a fine performance as coach Tara, making a gradual transition from seeing the seniors as old people to “my dancers”. Ms. Burton is well matched by Tracy Jai Edwards as her corporate nemesis, Alison. Additional comedy comes from the performances of Nekki Obi-Melekwe as Bea’s granddaughter Kendra, a team cheerleader, and Madeleine Doherty and Kay Walbye in the senior squad.

"Half Time" at Paper Mill Playhouse. Photo by Jerry Dalia
“Half Time” at Paper Mill Playhouse. Photo by Jerry Dalia

The design team — scenic designer David Rockwell, costume designer Gregg Barnes, lighting designer Kenneth Posner, and sound designer Randy Hansen — rise to the level synonymous with Paper Mill Playhouse productions. Special credit goes to projection designer Jason Lee Courson, especially his creation of the interior of the basketball arena toward the end of the show.

I encourage theatregoers to see one hell of a Half Time show!

Half Time makes its main premise — that age is a number and not a limit to ability or possibility — with quiet grace. This showcase of some of our finest stage performers supports that premise, providing the audience with a rousing, entertaining experience. I encourage theatregoers to skip the basketball game and go see one hell of a Half Time show!

Half Time is presented by the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn through July 1, 2018. For tickets and information, visit papermill.org