(l to r) Matt Doyle and Melanie Moore in ‘Freddie Falls in Love.’ (Photo: Justin Chao)
I recently met up with an erratic, handsome young man. In a bold move atypical of my years, I had struck up a conversation with him the night before at a bar. The following evening we met at his disheveled apartment to briefly frolic among his meticulously arranged designer sunglasses, piles of dirty laundry, and impressive collection of mostly used soap bars. He was at once intriguing and baffling. As life would have it, I had the same sinking feeling of “what was that?” after seeing Al Blackstone’s dance play Freddie Falls in Love.
Blackstone, Emmy-nominated for his work on So You Think You Can Dance?, has a flair for snappy staging, but the 22-song playlist and clashing styles are so disparate and the storytelling so convoluted, that’s it’s nearly impossible to emotionally connect.
Dancers aren’t credited with character names, so even identifying Freddie is up for debate. You might think it’s a despondent Matt Doyle (Book of Mormon, Spring Awakening), recovering from a break-up with Melanie Moore (A Chorus Line, Hello, Dolly!, Fiddler on the Roof). Or maybe it’s Betty Weinberger, who portrays Doyle’s sister-best friend-who-knows-what. Could it be the flex-footed, Charlie Chaplinesque Evan Kasprazak (Cats)? A furrow-browed conversation with my companion as we walked to the subway revealed more questions than answers, and when we parted ways, neither of us was any clearer on who played the title character.
From a choreographic standpoint, Blackstone displays an abundance of pony steps and an affinity for riffs on swing, coloring much of Freddie Falls in Love with a retro flair befitting its vintage score, which includes “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” (Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers), “Fabulous Places” (Bobby Darin), and “Makin’ Whoopie” (Marlene Dietrich). But the real gems reveal themselves when he infuses contemporary, syncopatic stylings, such as the sultry “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen” (The Hot Sardines), led by a corseted and fiercely talented Kolton Krouse. Blackstone has, in fact, assembled an entirely proficient, youthful company — precise in execution but lacking nuance or subtlety. Moore, at 28-years-old and with a well-earned resumé of theater and television credits, is the show’s poster child, though her supporting role mostly vanishes midway. She conveys coy with the slightest twist of an ankle; heartache with an upward gaze into Doyle’s bewildered eyes.
The physical production, including scenic designer Jason Sherwood’s stackable blocks (did we not learn anything from David Rockwell’s dreaded design for the Falsettos Broadway revival?) and candy-colored costumes by Christine Meyers, infantilize the production. Collectively, it reads more like a production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown than Gen Z love on the rocks. The anachronistic use of a CD-playing boombox also brings into question what era the piece takes place.
Freddie’s world, much like that of my recent fling, I imagine, makes total sense in the mind of its creator. But love is a two-way street. I’m afraid in the case of Blackstone’s work, I found myself going in the wrong direction.
Freddie Falls in Love
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue, NYC
Through August 3
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor and chief critic. Read more of his work at wexlerwrites.com.