Hip-hop hooray: Inside ‘Half Time,’ Paper Mill Playhouse’s sensational new Broadway-bound musical

Hip-hop hooray: Inside 'Half Time,' Paper Mill Playhouse's sensational new Broadway-bound musical

Vehicles crammed each inch of the parking tons at Paper Mill Playhouse on Thursday, spilling out right into a gravel clearing down the road, due to the thrill surrounding its newest present.

However the social gathering formally began when 9 senior residents in stretch pants and tracksuits received free to some hip-hop beats. They did not have rap songs once they have been younger, however they might shake it, shake it anyway – simply so long as they did not break it, break it.

Within the musical, “Half Time,” the most recent Paper Mill present anticipated to make the leap to Broadway, veterans of the Nice White Approach play members of an all-senior hip-hop dance staff from New Jersey. The story is impressed by an actual group of Nets dancers that first got here collectively in East Rutherford greater than a decade in the past.

Opening Tuesday for a restricted engagement after every week of previews, the present is slated to run via July 1. Even when members of the viewers aren’t hip to the hop, they’re drawn in by the present’s vitality and pure allure.

The Nifty Shades of Grey, aka the Nu Hip Crew, a staff of seniors who dance to hip-hop music for the New Jersey Cougars. (Jerry Dalia)

“I do not like hip-hop, however I loved that,” mentioned one lady, leaving the theater, stocked with seniors like herself — OGs, if you’ll — but in addition younger college students.

“Half Time” is primarily based on “Gotta Dance,” Dori Berinstein’s 2008 documentary concerning the NETSational dancers, the NBA’s first senior hip-hop dance staff. The staff shaped in 2006 in East Rutherford after the New Jersey Nets, then nonetheless enjoying in New Jersey, hosted an open name for dancers 60 and up. Making the minimize have been 12 ladies and one man. They initially had no concept they might be requested to bounce to hip-hop.

The movie chronicles administration’s concern that the dancers, whose strengths included swing and faucet dancing (although none danced professionally), will be unable to select up the dance model in time for a efficiency at middle court docket. However after three weeks of intensive coaching, the silver-haired retirees are dripping in swagger and brushing their shoulders off like execs. Buying and selling shiny raincoats and a “Singin’ within the Rain” routine for the prospect to “make it rain” to a Fats Joe and Lil Wayne tune, they ship the gang into hysterics.

“Half Time” loosely follows the journey of the actual staff, fictionalizing many particulars. Within the story, the Nets develop into the New Jersey Cougars. However particular characters do take cues from precise seniors on the staff, which incorporates seniors from New Jersey and New York (they’ve since carried out for the Brooklyn Nets). The musical is the most recent iteration of a manufacturing that opened in Chicago in 2015 as “Gotta Dance.”

The soft-voiced Emmy and Tony nominee Georgia Engel (“Drowsy Chaperone,” “Everyone Loves Raymond” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Present”), 69, headlines the present as Dorothy, a girl whose expressive alter ego, Dottie, has an unmistakable ardour for hip-hop. (She performed the identical function within the Chicago manufacturing.) By the tip, she’s rapping like a veteran MC. Dottie relies on a kindergarten trainer named Betsy Walkup, whose zest for rap is instantly clear within the documentary, as expressed via her personal alter ego, Betty. To her, hip-hop is a dance for the lots, excellent for child boomers accustomed to doing “The Twist.”

“I actually let free,” Betsy says within the movie, her flaxen hair framing her face in neat waves. “I actually type of did a ballot dance, actually.”

As “Half Time” progresses, Dottie, a type of exaggeration of Betty, is appointed the chief of the squad and proceeds to high school her teammates on the distinctions between the Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash and the Livid 5. By the tip of the present, she’s invoking Public Enemy’s “Combat the Energy.”

Tony nominee and Emmy winner Andre De Shields (“The Wiz,” “Full Monty”), 72, performs the widower Ron, the one male dancer on the staff, which is initially referred to as Nifty Shades of Grey.

“It seems like a bunch of seniors wearing leather-based, spanking one another,” Ron says, rejecting the title. (By the tip, they transition to the “Nu Hip Crew.”) His character, who prefers swing dancing, is a nod to Joe Bianco, the one man on the NETSational staff.

Buzzwords of 2018 — variety, inclusion, fairness — they’re all lined in he present, says De Shields, who has been with the manufacturing since Chicago. He says he appreciates the present giving veteran actors a path to sustainability and longevity, and inspiring the identical for anybody watching within the viewers.

“It is the type of factor that retains us alive, reinvigorated, vivified,” he says.

The NETsational senior hip-hop dance staff makes its middle court docket debut in Dori Berinstein’s 2008 documentary ‘Gotta Dance,’ the story that impressed the musical. (New Jersey Nets)

“Half Time” produces instantaneous laughs because the seniors’ creaky, earnest shimmying — together with their complaints concerning the room temperature and music — is held up in opposition to the slick strikes of the common dance staff, the Cougarettes.

One tune is definitely titled “Who Desires To See That?”

Berinstein, the producer of the Paper Mill present alongside Invoice Damaschke, has received 4 Tonys in her profession, together with back-to-back honors in for greatest revival of a play with “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in 2001 and for greatest musical with “Completely Trendy Millie” in 2002. She’s been guiding the mission since she first had the concept to make an age-defying movie. Past Broadway, she sees the story being tailored right into a film musical or TV collection.

“They’re all nonetheless dancing and as a bunch,” she says of the NETsationals, who will probably be in the home for opening evening. “They take their hip-hop actually significantly. It is sparked in them only a nice ardour for all times. They encourage me consistently.”

The present boasts music from Westfield native Mathew Sklar and the late Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Nell Benjamin and a e book by Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin.

As a part of the evolution of the present manufacturing, actress and singer-songwriter Ester Dean (“Pitch Excellent”), who has labored with chart-topping artists from Beyonce to Lil Wayne, lent her abilities to the mission’s finale.

“This materials was very difficult as a result of it was very true; we could not lie about it,” says Jerry Mitchell (“Kinky Boots,” “La Cage aux Folles”), the musical’s Tony-winning director and choreographer. He anticipates the present will make it to Broadway throughout the 12 months.

“I do not assume there will probably be any issues getting an viewers for this present,” he says.

There’s loads of levity to be present in watching seniors attempt on the swagger required of hip-hop, however the present additionally relays deeply felt messages about growing old, ageism and respect. Regardless of the gripes of an government who doubts the mature dancers can pull off the routine, their coach refuses to play them for laughs.

One other dancer, Joanne, performed by Tony winner Donna McKechnie (“A Refrain Line”), clings to her youth after her proctologist husband leaves her for a youthful lady.

“It is a curse,” Joanne says, sounding hopeless. “No one desires you, no one even desires to take a look at you anymore.”

McKechnie, 75, says her character is loosely primarily based on the glamorous dancer Peggy Byrne from the documentary, a former Miss Subways in New York. She says the story holds the potential for the actors “to encourage folks to not abandon themselves, not to surrender.”

“Getting older myself, I am studying how you can cope,” she says. “You do not have the identical protection mechanisms you probably did whenever you have been younger.” The model of dance was new to McKechnie, too. The former Fosse dancer educated for 3 weeks in a hip-hop bootcamp, a extra intense model of the unique staff’s apply interval.

From left: Garrett Turner, Georgia Engel (Dorothy/Dottie), Alexander Aguilar and Lori Tan Chinn (Mae) in ‘Half Time.’ Engel’s character, impressed by a dancer within the documentary ‘Gotta Dance,’ has an alter ego named Dottie who raps and leads the senior dance staff. (Jerry Dalia)

Camilla, one other dancer (Nancy Ticotin, 60, from “Orange is the New Black”), flawlessly delivers red-hot salsa strikes to the anti-ageist anthem “Como No?”

“Half Time” goes behind the routines to disclose the inside workings of every character and their household life — one dancer, named Bea, performed by Tony and Emmy winner Lillias White (“The Life,” “Sesame Avenue” and “The Get Down”), 66, says the one approach she will get a while together with her text-happy granddaughter, Cougars dancer Kendra (Nkeki Obi-Melekwe), is to hitch a experience together with her to apply (within the movie, multiple senior had a granddaughter on the common dance staff).

Ron, in the meantime, strikes a take care of his household that if he emerges from their basement, makes the dance staff and performs, he can make a journey together with his grandchild to SeaWorld. One other character, Mae (Lori Tan Chinn, “Orange is the New Black”), impressed partly by Filipina grandmother Fanny Militar from the unique staff, delivers quite a lot of the present’s punchlines, but in addition has to deal with her husband forgetting who she is.

The interaction between generations — together with the 20-something coaches and the seniors — will get to the beating coronary heart of the present, echoing an emotional second within the documentary when the NETSationals carry out a type of call-and-response routine with the Nets Children Dance Staff.

“It’s totally a lot a multigenerational story,” Berinstein says. The seniors battle stereotypes, however their dance coach Tara (Haven Burton), at simply 27, has additionally aged out of being a dancer.

Kimberlee Garris, 39, says that character and her boss, a Cougars government, every take cues from her real-life function. A co-producer of “Half Time,” Garris was a Knicks dancer who turned leisure director for the Nets and coached the NETSationals. Whereas she did not age out of dancing, she did face stress from her bosses to ship — if the seniors did not carry out, they’d be minimize.

“We have been pushing them arduous,” she says. “There was by no means any speak about them being a joke. We have been simply so impressed by how decided they have been.” Now the joke, she says, is that their 15 minutes have lasted 12 years.

Unique NETSational dancer Edie Ollwerther, 75, of Hasbrouck Heights, just lately noticed the present. She’s grateful for the way in which the story can open folks’s minds. “It grows on you,” she says of hip-hop.

Ollwerther has been a dance trainer for 43 years, for the final 22 at Edie’s Dance Manufacturing facility, her studio in Wooden-Ridge. In 2006, she confirmed as much as the Nets audition together with her good friend, Janice Mallett, figuring she did not have something to lose. They’d been in the identical tap-dancing troupe, Rutherford’s Pleased Hoofers. Each made the minimize.

“I do not assume any of us, together with them, had any concept of the place this was going to wind up,” she says. “… I do not assume they anticipated us to be nearly as good as we have been for that point.”

The group danced at a Paper Mill gala and once more final week after a preview efficiency.

“We nonetheless are all able to go,” Ollwerther says. “After we see one another it is like a household reunion.”

“Half Time” runs via July 1 on the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn; papermill.org/present/half-time

Amy Kuperinsky could also be reached at akuperinsky@njadvancemedia.com. Observe her on Twitter @AmyKup or on Fb.

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