HOW TO DANCE IN OHIO
It’s always nice to see Broadway history being made, which is the case with How to Dance in Ohio. It’s not only the first musical whose principal characters are autistic, but also the first where those characters are played by autistic actors. Extraordinary too - when most musicals take on average 5-6 years (or more) to get to Broadway (assuming the project doesn’t die en route) - is that this heartfelt and heart-filled show had its world premiere at Syracuse Stage just last year. Still, having attended this two-act, 2, plus hour show, the nagging question is - why is it on Broadway?
Admittedly, I’m on dangerous ground here because it’s not woke to look askance at productions that feature individuals of historically misrepresented and marginalized groups, but in a word the show is - oh, hell I’ll just say it - trite. The musical is based on a true story, as presented in the 2015 documentary film with the same title . (In positive contrast, please regard Buena Vista Social Club as an exemplar of how a documentary film can be effectively dramatized as a stage musical.)
The writer, who also wrote the lyrics, the composer and the director are all making their Broadway debut. Bare-bones in structure, the story follows a group of autistic teens and young adults in Columbus preparing for their first spring formal. The practical and therapeutic goal of learning how to dance for the prom incorporates development of social skills under the professional guidance of counselor, Dr. Emilio Amigo, played by Broadway professional Caesar Samayoa, last seen in Come From Away. There’s lots of songs - 19, count ‘em - each one as indiscernible in melody as the next or the one before. The setting and costumes are bare-bones too. (Again, by contrast, the set for Kimberly Akimbo is minimal, too, but its story reveals real drama.)
The young creators of the show can legitimately rejoice to see their maiden effort in the big leagues. If they never see Broadway again, How to Dance in Ohio should have a long life on the high school circuit where it belongs.