By Debra Danese for The Dance Journal | photo by Bill Hebert
In a festive season full of Nutcrackers, ContempraDANCE Theatre Company offered an entertaining alternative to the holiday classic with their comical spoof, Philly Nutt Crak- Up. What started as a 30-minute show has evolved over the years to what is now a two-hour production. There seemed to be something for everyone with plenty of mainstream references and unique ties to our area. The South Street Rocky-Ettes, Penn’s Angels, and Captain Philadelphia were just a few in the cast of characters roaming through the Kingdom of Prussia. Kim “Kardelphian,” complete with prosthetic derriere, joined the City Hall Dolls this year. At the center of it all was Liberty Belle Anne, danced with perfection by the charming Stephanie Vasta.
The Sugar Plum Fairy opened the show with a rap to set the scene. We were introduced to Liberty Belle Anne, who had met and fallen for a “geek” (John Corsa) but could no longer find him. Adding to the plot, we discovered that he was actually a superhero. To tell the story, Gail Vartanian, Artistic Director/Founder for ContempraDANCE Theatre Company, brought together an ensemble of performers who took on dance genres ranging from ballet and jazz to tap and hip-hop. Philadelphia based artist, Todd Munoz, choreographed the hip-hop segments of the show and also performed with The Railway Rats (Wilder Troxell, Isaiah Cooper, and Lisa Urbanowicz.) Munoz showcased the diversity of the street dancers by incorporating breaking, tutting, popping, and locking. Isaiah Cooper was also featured in Mocha-Nilla-Philla-Chino, where he displayed incredible athleticism and acrobatic skill. He proved himself to be a versatile and technical performer throughout the performance. Another stand out was Bilal Simpson, who played the role of Uncle Franklin Rosselmeyer with comedic ease. Simpson also danced a stunning duet with Stephanie Vasta to Once Upon My Dream.
As the main character in The Philly Nutt Crak- Up, Liberty Belle Anne could not have been cast any better than with Ms. Vasta. She was expressive and engaging throughout the entire performance. However, it was her performance quality that made her so exceptional in the role. Vasta had incredible control of her movements which she executed with seeming effortlessness.
The show maintained a nice pace with a varied mix of music by artists including Tchaikovsky, Cindy Lauper, Kanye West and Barbara Streisand. By the end of this quirky tale, Liberty Belle Ann found the boy she’d been searching for and was whisked off stage in a shopping cart.
Vartanian took the stage after the final bow to announce that this was the last performance of the Philly Nutt Crak-Up at the Painted Bride. After 14 years, it was a bittersweet goodbye to what had become a second home to ContempraDANCE Theatre Company.