How to Dance in Ohio

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Photo: Curtis Brown Review
Within seconds of their opening number, “Today Is,” we immediately want to know more – much more – about the seven autistic young adults at the center of “How to Dance in Ohio,” the well-intentioned and periodically heartwarming musical adaptation of Alexandra Shiva’s Peabody Award-winning documentary, now at the Belasco Theatre under Sammi Cannold’s mostly solid direction.

Unfortunately, despite the extraordinary efforts of a septet of terrific performers, we only get to know these characters just a little bit better. Instead, they are mostly confined by librettist Rebekah Greer Mellock’s script to being people with one defining trait each – a love of facts, an obsession with electricity, a newfound dependence on boys, a desire to be a famous vlogger – along with battling the issues of social awkwardness that are common not just in autistic people, but in so many people of all ages.

Meanwhile, Mellock spends way too much time – resulting in an unnecessarily long 2 ½ hour show -- focusing on the adults in the story, including some of the kids’ paint-by-number parents (all well-played but basically superfluous). This issue is especially true when it comes to the amount of attention paid to their well-meaning but surprisingly clueless counselor, Dr. Amigo (a strong-voiced Caesar Samoyoa).

While it’s true that Amigo does do a lot to help his charges navigate life; he also ultimately comes off as a bit overbearing – especially in wanting to impose his will on where the seemingly confident Drew (Liam Pearce in a star-making performance) goes to college, as well as temporarily turning his back on his daughter Ashley (an excellent Christina Sastro) because he perceives her as a person wasting her God-given gift as a dancer.

Indeed, late in the show, when he finally tells Drew that this new “Social Resolution” is “Get out of the way and let people make their own decisions,” you literally may want to stand up and cheer. (You also wish the show’s creators had taken their own advice.)

Fortunately, we do get to spend some time with the younger set, who make us care whenever they’re on stage. Will Drew ever work up the courage to ask the painfully shy Maredith (a compelling Madison Kopec) to the “spring formal” that Amigo has devised as a therapeutic exercise? Will the insecure Mel (an impressive Imani Russell) get her deserved promotion at her pet shop, even if answering phones and working with superiors make her extremely nervous? Will Tommy (the endearing Conor Tague) not only pass his driver’s test, but also get to drive his big brother’s truck?

Some of these dilemmas, while far from earth-shattering, are expressed through a pleasant if instantly forgettable score by Mellock and composer Jacob Yandura (and augmented by the perhaps harder-than-it seems choreography of Mayte Natalio); others are brought up and resolved purely through dialogue.

Either way, though, this consummate cast of thespians (including the equally appealing Desmond Luis Edwards, Amelia Fei, and Ashley Wool) makes us want to know the answers to these questions – even the ones with foregone conclusions.

By the way, how do you dance in Ohio? Any way that you feel comfortable, of course.
By Brian Scott Lipton

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Open/Close Dates
Opening 12/10/2023
Closing 6/16/2024

Theatre Info
Belasco Theatre
111 West 44th Street
New York, NY 10036