Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, the writer of scores for treasures of musical theater, like “Cats,” “Phantom of the Opera,” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” also penned the music for a lesser-known gem that will be on stage at Lawrenceville’s Aurora Theatre. “Song and Dance,“ with its classic song “Tell Me on a Sunday,” is the selection for Aurora Theatre’s first return to live performances. Co-founder and Artistic Director of Aurora Theatre Ann-Carol Pence joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom along with Angela Harris, Artistic Director of Dance Canvas and choreographer of Aurora’s “Song and Dance” to talk about the production and the unique opportunities it presents.
The Broadway hit first premiered in the 1980s and follows an unusual structure — which could be the reason it’s been so rarely produced since its debut. “It is usually done in two parts; one called ‘Song,’ and one called ‘Dance,'” Pence said. “Song is a one-act that Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote with [lyricist] Don Black, but nobody ever lets the rights to the ‘Dance’ portion of the show out … He only lets that first act. And I was bound and determined from November of last year that we were going to be able to return to the theater, not just with this one act, but with this fully formed.”
The first act, “Song,” has enjoyed numerous productions and interpretations throughout its life, but a greater challenge awaits aspiring producers of the “Dance” act, due to its closely-guarded rights and rare recordings. “It is miraculous to see that [Harris] took this piece of music.” Pence said. “There’s barely any recording of it. But the story that she is telling of this woman, again through the eyes of dance, through the lens of dance, is just amazing.”
Due to the lack of visible precedent, Harris’s choreography is entirely original. “I have had the opportunity for many years to work on production both as a performer and as a choreographer,” Harris said. “Like Ann-Carol said, the music was there, but in terms of guidance as to a storyline, or where Act Two and ‘Dance’ was to go, it was something that I had the liberty to shape entirely. So that is such a luxury for a choreographer, to be given the freedom to dream and make art on stage. There’s no voice or dialogue anywhere in the musical’s second portion; it’s entirely an experience conveyed through dance.”
“That is what makes the show really, really unique,” Harris said. “It’s such a great display of the professional talent that calls metro Atlanta home, and Georgia home. The ability for audiences to see a production that has this gorgeous ‘Song’ act, and then see an act of, in essence, a story ballet, in the same production, is rare, to say the least. But I think that Aurora and the Aurora stage is such a beautiful platform for it.”
Julian Lloyd Webber was a concert cellist, and his brother Andrew conceived “Song and Dance,” in part, as a vehicle for Julian to showcase his talents. Standing in for the famous composer’s brother, Aurora’s production brings in local virtuoso cellist Noah Johnson, an instructor at Gwinnett County’s School of the Arts. “We wanted to amplify, for the very first time, Gwinnett County Schools’ commitment to rigor and skill with regard to the arts,” Pence said. “Noah is one of those educators … The minute I heard this piece for the first time, I reached out to him.”
“It is a brilliant piece to dance,” Harris said. “It’s so rhythmic, and it’s so emotional. I was watching one of the pieces that really features the cellist, and it’s a solo dancer with the cello, and as an audience member watching, I got chills at how the cello could make the movement feel a certain way.”
“Song and Dance” is showing at Aurora Theatre from Aug. 28 through Sep. 12. Ticket information, schedule and safety protocols can be found at www.auroratheatre.com.