REVIEW: The album that marked the singer's dramatic restyling lends name, soundtrack and inspiration to a new Ballet of the Dolls work.
"Memphis Blues" offers something unexpected from both choreographer Myron Johnson and singer Cyndi Lauper. For Lauper's part, her 2010 album of the same name represents a dramatic stylistic departure from upbeat pop into the hard-guitar-driving realm of the blues. Johnson's original dance work for Ballet of the Dolls based on this soundtrack surprises by summoning up a rollicking roadhouse feel, and in its most raw moments truly channels Lauper's growl and grit.
Johnson struck up a friendship with Lauper through Macy's Glamorama a few years ago. The Grammy Award-winner gave Johnson her blessing to use the songs from "Memphis Blues" (plus a few others), and that's how Minneapolis' Ritz Theater stage came to be transformed into a boisterous setting inspired by Lauper's newfound musical personality, one she developed by inviting such legends as B.B. King, Allen Toussaint and Ann Peebles to join her at the mike.
Friday night, it was apparent Johnson's response to Lauper's music, appropriately enough, is primarily a showcase for the Dolls' women. Heather Cadigan and Rebecca Abroe danced to "Just Your Fool" with enough swagger in their steps to start a bar fight. Valerie Torres-Comvalius interpreted the redemptive notes in "Don't Cry No More" with a cool, hip-swaying confidence. A quartet gave the raucous "Rollin' and Tumblin'" an empowerment strut. And Stephanie Fellner's solo to "Down So Low" pulled the mournful notes directly from the core of her body and soul.
Not every dance on the program delved deep enough into the emotional essence of Lauper's songs. The blues have a spicy flavor, and yet some works came off as bland and too beholden to the stories within. The jealous rages and relationship swapping in "How Blue Can You Get," for example, lacked the knowing playfulness suggested by the music.
Pieces set to "She Bop" and "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" close out the show, but reminders of beloved hits from Lauper's past almost seem unnecessary here. The new developments in her varied career -- and Johnson's response from his seasoned perspective -- is the beating heart of two artists in conversation with one another.
Johnson has said that Lauper might appear in person during the show's run. But even if she doesn't, her rowdy spirit is captured well by the dance version of "Memphis Blues."
Caroline Palmer writes about dance.