Book: Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin; Lyrics: Nell Benjamin; Score: Matthew Sklar and Marvin Hamlisch. At: Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St. Tickets: 800-775-2000 or www.broadwayinchicago.com; $40-$102. Runs through Jan. 17
If pressed to do a two-sentence pitch about the Broadway-aimed musical Gotta Dance, mine would be: It's a mix of A Chorus Line and Follies as a diverse ( and starry ) group of auditioning seniors reveal why they want to be a part of a 60-and-older dance team during halftime at a NBA basketball game. Then think The Full Monty as we get to know the seniors and root for them so they can overcome their reluctance to dance hip-hop in the big finale, which really sounds more like disco.
Notice that my pitch didn't mention Dori Berinstein's 2008 film documentary Gotta Dance, which inspired the show. Although many musicals nowadays rely on recognizable properties in other mediums to attract audiences, Gotta Dance isn't a household name so it plays like an original.
Yet you do have to wonder how the late composer Marvin Hamlisch might have felt about Gotta Dance director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell blatantly stealing Michael Bennett's staging ideas from A Chorus Line like the revolving mirrors, auditioning dancers messing up moves and cruel elimination tactics all in the first scene. But since the A Chorus Line composer was writing music for Gotta Dance before he died in 2012, it's a safe bet that Hamlisch would have laughed along with the audiences who catch the homage. ( Elf composer Matthew Sklar was brought aboard to complete the score with lyricist Nell Benjamin. )
And unlike Follies, where some characters look back on their misspent youth with regret and bitterness, Gotta Dance is much more a rah-rah pep talk to goad seniors to break out of their comfort zones and to look to the future since they still have so much to offer. Call this blue-hair pandering, but Gotta Dance smartly acknowledges how seniors are living longer and how ageism strikes ever earlier in our youth-obsessed culture ( especially in the case of the dance-team coach Tara, capably played by Haven Burton ).
Much of what makes much of Gotta Dance work are the many skilled pros of TV and stage who know how to work both the snappy comic banter and pathos of Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin's book. Georgia Engel is a delight throughout as the hip-hop loving elementary-school teacher Dorothy/Dottie, while Stefanie Powers and Nancy Ticotin both amaze with their respective dramatic and dancing skills as Joanne and Camilla.
Andre de Shields also is an expert showman throughout, even if his dramatic reason for dancing is revealed so late in the game in a convoluted bit of comic banter. ( Since there are so many characters, their individual reasons for dancing are gradually revealed instead of presented upfront. )
Although there is a countdown to performance day to build tension, there are so many stories in Gotta Dance that it sometimes loses dramatic flow. But I'm inclined to be forgiving, since the characters are such delightful company to be with so you don't mind all the fun and touching senior moments.