Momentum

A Reviewer’s Confession: It is unlikely that very many elementary-school-age children or teenagers will read this review of Mayumana’s Momentum, the children’s show currently playing at the New Victory Theatre. This is as it should be: reviews cater to those seeking overviews of events they consider attending or insights into ones they already have. The former may be wondering whether the thing is worth their time and $55. As for the latter, your guess (clich√© alert!) is as good as mine. All deeper meanings being relative, the best any reviewer can hope to do is combine his knowledge and observational powers to describe the event in hopes that the reader, the omnipotent anonymous reader, will find what he needs to render his decision or gain insight into his own experience.

I don’t mean to get all smarty-pants on you. These were my thoughts while watching Momentum, an engaging show sure to appeal to its target audience and their chaperones. Before the show even began, for example, as we found our seats, a performer on the stage in a sleeveless shirt tinkered with what looked like the world’s greatest home entertainment system. The bottom level held a sound board and a keyboard, onto which the man typed several sentences. I knew they were sentences because they appeared, letter by letter, on the screen of a large, black LCD television occupying the top level of the unit. Then, as though the TV were an enormous iPad, he touched the sentence (“NYC is our favorite city”) and moved it to the upper left portion of the screen.

“Wow,” I said to my friend, as we watched him move subsequent sentences (“So is Tel Aviv”; “And Buenos Aires”; “And Madrid”; “And oh...ah...Paris”) around the screen.

“This is so Minority Report,” she replied.

We weren’t the only ones enjoying ourselves. Parents followed the action out the corners of their vision while helping children settle into their seats. Kids pointed at the man and looked around, making sure the people they came with were watching. At one point, another performer—holding a microphone and followed by a cameraman—bypassed the stage and walked directly into the auditorium. He interviewed several children, asking them questions and prompting them to say words into the microphone so they could be recorded by the typing DJ. They spoke into the camera, which projected the interview onto a huge on-stage screen for everyone to see. Later, these snippets and interviews appeared spliced together as a music video. The audience loved the interview and the kids—mostly elementary-school-aged—loved seeing some of their own on screen.

Momentum utilizes both technology and time to spectacular effect. The show begins with large projections of ticking clocks and consists of several group numbers riffing on its metronomic beat. Each scene contains a variation on singing or dancing but show directors Eylon Nuphar and Boaz Berman create a context in which each dancer carries his own clock and each clock reacts to the rhythm of the wearer. These numbers are choreographed to near perfection. One of my friend’s favorite scenes started with a man placing his watch over his heart and dancing to its persistent, pre-recorded beat. Another dancer enters, places the watch over his own heart and it changes to an entirely different pre-recorded beat (Salsa, if I remember correctly). Another dancer enters, places the watch over her heart and the beat changes again (hip-hop). Soon, several dancers perform a fast-paced number. The watch changes hearts many times. The beat always finds the correct heart and vice versa. It was amazing to watch.

Each number ups the ante, adding objects and changing physical environments to create more complicated rhythms and soundscapes. They beat boxes, drums, glasses, bowls of water, pipes, plates, drums, and the floor. They perform sprawled across the stage, on raised platforms, in cubes on a moving platform that resembles the set of Hollywood Squares. They sing, they dance, they play guitar. And the lights flash, push, flow, and beam with laser precision throughout the auditorium, transforming the entire building into their own dynamic playground. My favorite moment occurred near the end when the entire theatre was bathed in a soft blue light. Everyone in the audience looked around, simultaneously craning to get a view of the place. The combination of light and movement made it seem as though we had all become a giant, swaying, slow motion wave.

Near the end though, the show reached a plateau. It became so large that it couldn’t get any bigger. The rhythms became less infective, the dancing lost its fire, the whole lost its shape. I never once lost my appreciation for the talents involved—the cast is superb, the sets are dynamic and the lighting/video effects are mesmerizing—but near the end, they washed over me without effect.

Did the kids seem to like the show? Yes. They reached for the flashing lights and responded to the participatory portions of the show. Did the adults like it? They seemed to. They clapped and cheered with their children.

It’s a fun show. It’s relentlessly upbeat. It’s full of talent and ambition. But be forewarned: it can feel overwhelming. I left the theatre appreciative but numb. Will you feel the same? It’s hard to say. But you’re buying the ticket so I thought you were entitled to a fair description.