It was meant to be a musical; it was always a dance. When Tim Burton and writer Caroline Thompson first discussed their ideas for a movie about a boy with scissors for hands, they figured they'd need songs to push the audience into the fantasy mood the story required. That didn't happen; the authors decided to trust the audience to take this wild ride with them, and Burton summoned all resources of movie magic his own seductive sense of ethereal weirdness, Bo Welch's gift for parodying suburban architecture, most crucially Johnny Depp's gorgeous otherness to make Edward Scissorhands sing. No lyrics needed.
If Burton could sell his bottles of wry whimsy to film fans, Matthew Bourne has managed a tougher trick: getting the mass audience to go crazy for ballet. The English choreographer's updating of The Nutcracker and Cinderella have been perennials of the London theater. His all-male Swan Lake was a Broadway sensation in 1998. He also brought Samuel Beckett's Play Without Words to dance life. In a more traditional mode, Bourne co-directed and co-choreographed the Disney stage musical of Mary Poppins , which started in London and came to Broadway last November. Demolishing conventions, bestriding art forms from ballet to musical comedy to film, Bourne's work isn't just highbrow or lowbrow. It's all-brow.
His latest sleight-of-foot stunt is a dance-and-music (no dialogue) version of Edward Scissorhands , wowing them at the Brooklyn Academy of Music through Mar. 31, before moving on to Toronto, St. Paul, Denver and Seattle next month.
Bourne has a special talent for narrative clarity: you can always follow one of his stories, even if you don't know the original. That's a must for Edward Scissorhands , the tale of a boy stitched together in a forbidding castle by a lonely inventor who dies, leaving his scarred, preternaturally gentle creature to be discovered by the folks in the middle-class folks neighborhood just below the castle. (In the movie, that street of dizzyingly matched pastel homes was a real place: Tinsmith's Circle in Lutz, Fla.)
Edward's new benefactor is Peg Boggs, sweet-souled and steel-willed, who somehow convinces her family to accept and house this odd fellow with digital utensils. Peg's neighbors, naturally skeptical of having a monster next door, soon realize that Edward's handicap is also an asset: his scissorhands can sculpt trees into topiary, reshape poodles into dog-show winners and fashion chic hairdos for the ladies. One woman in particular, the vampish Joyce, gets kinda kinky over this man in black with the super-long fingernails, and has a vigorous erotic go at Edward. But his devotion is focused on Peg's teenage daughter Kim, who is both scared of the new boarder and preoccupied with her loutish boyfriend Jim.
This is the Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley fable with a mid-century American twist: What would happen if the Frankenstein monster were adopted by a really nice suburban mom? And if the villagers took a shine to the creature before being egged on to kill him? It's also Beauty and the Beast . Except that Edward's beauty is the beast for most of the piece Kim pays scant attention to our hero and, as incarnated by Depp or either of the men (Sam Archer and Richard Winsor) who dances Edward for Bourne, the beast is beautiful.
In the new version we'll call it eSizz to distinguish it from the movie composer Tony Davies has expanded Danny Elfman's original themes into a full, luscious score. The choreographer hews closely to the film's plot, but makes a few modifications to give it a Bourne identity. For one thing, Edward begins as a real boy who's killed in a freak accident. (Helpful hint, kids: Don't play with scissors during an electrical storm.) And the inventor doesn't construct a new boy; rather he strives to revive the dead one. In another tweak, the local teenagers, led by Kim's dastard beau, are responsible for the Inventor's death (though Bourne doesn't pursue this line to its logical confrontation). There's also a severe reduction in the importance of Kim's mother, and a promotion of Joyce, the vamp in toreador pants.
Bourne reimagines the film's unnamed town as Hope Springs, and the local school as, of course, Hope Springs High. The show's designer, Lez Brotherston, has made Welch's gaudy pastels a bit subtler in shade, and simplified the neighborhood into two small houses (Peg's and Joyce's), with the castle above and behind. But the show seems even more populated than the movie. Five or six family clusters, of mom, dad and the kids, go out motoring in invisible cars. In a big pre-Christmas dance party, the floor practically vibrates with two dozen jitterbuggers. It's a great set piece, as is a scene of trees in the park coming to life; Edward's magic shears make shear theatrical magic.
One of Bourne's critics said he had a simple technique for making dance theater palatable to the masses: take out the dancing. Granted, eSizz isn't ablaze with entrechats and pirouettes, but it's got loads of modern movement: the mock swordplay and bullfight maneuvers Edward engages in with the ladies; the expertly clumsy seduction that Joyce tries on Edward, with the help of a beanbag chair that drops 30 feet from the flies to the stage floor. The show has more smart laughs than most Broadway musical comedies.
Finally, when Kim realizes that the man with the cutlery fingers is kinder, more sensitive than any human, and she and Edward come together in dance, eSizz soars into ballet ecstasy. As Edward's giant ice sculpture of Kim looms at one side, she melts into his arms. Their climactic pas de deux is one of the emotionally potent I've seen, both because of the precision of the performers' movements and its dramatic necessity in the story at this moment of connection, what can two people do but dance?
Calling all New Yorkers: dance on over to BAM for this sizzling eSizz . I guarantee that, at the end, you'll glide out.