A cotton candy confection of a musical, Only Gold is delightful, if the tiniest bit cloying, in the moment–wistfully pretty songs, glorious dancing, just the right amount of glitz in its production elements–but melts away into air once you leave the theater. Which still makes it so much better than it ought, by all rights, to be.
The book, by Ted Malawer and Andy Blankenbuehler, who also directs and choreographs, is paper-thin, built around three love stories that are no more than a sketch apiece, populated by some gestures at character. The royal family of the fictional European monarchy of Cosimo–King Belenus (Terrence Mann, as reliably and deliciously pompous as ever), Queen Roksana (the impossibly regal dancer Karine Plantadit), and Princess Tooba (a spunky Gaby Diaz)–come to Paris to arrange Tooba’s wedding to a count. Belenus also hopes to rekindle his romance with the increasingly distant Roksana in the city where they spent their honeymoon. Tooba, though, has other plans than marrying her designated suitor, and soon finds herself passionately in love with Jacques (Ryan Steele), the bellboy/philosopher serving as Belenus’s right-hand man during their thirty days in Paris. Meanwhile, Henri (Ryan VanDenBoom), a watchmaker with higher artistic dreams in the realm of jewelry, and his wife, Camille (Hannah Cruz), an aspiring concert pianist who seems doomed to a life of giving piano lessons to children instead of living her dream, are about to cross paths with the royals in a way that will change two of those marriages, in opposite directions.
The songs, by British pop star Kate Nash (who also performs as the show’s narrator), seem to mix tunes from Nash’s catalog with originals for the show; they blend stylistically well enough but the lyrics, not surprisingly, don’t always quite fit with the mood. The gimmick of a fairy-tale-esque singing narrator should be at least twice as hokey as it is, as should the creation of the fictional European monarchy of Cosimo and its whimsically named royal family, whose utterly unspecified royal duties threaten to conflict with the demands of their hearts. (Let’s not even talk about setting a show in Paris in 1928, with main characters who are European heads of state, completely avoiding any reference to either world war or the general state of the world.) And yet, the charm is inescapable, and I got sucked right in.
Much of that, of course, comes from two sources: Nash’s winsome charm as the piece’s presiding spirit, and Blankenbuehler’s zippy direction and delicious choreography. Some musicals are sung through–this one is danced through, with almost all of its big emotional developments (for two of the central three couples, anyway; more on that in a bit) coming through dance numbers, alongside big group routines, especially for the male ensemble, that are thrilling to watch. Because he’s got Nash to lean on as a musical throughline, Blankenbuehler was clearly free to cast strong singers in some roles and exceptional dancers in others, and amp up the dancing in particular till it’s carrying most of the weight of the plot. It’s a bold move to for the most part not even try to cast with “triple threats,” but it mostly works. Nash, Hannah Cruz as Camille, Terrence Mann as the king, get to express themselves primarily in song, their strength (which does leave Cruz, a sweetly appealing performer and singer, a bit underused). with And then Karine Plantadit (a former soloist with Alvin Ailey), Gaby Diaz (winner of TV’s So You Think You Can Dance), and Ryan Steele are liberated to dance their hearts out. (Ryan VanDenBoom’s Henri is the only character who gets to show off in both areas.)
Plantadit’s regal bearing, with a hint of sadness behind her eyes, fits Roksana’s narrative of an increasingly sad and lonely queen. Does her reconciliation with Belenus, well-intentioned blowhard that he is, feel earned? Not really–but her standout solos let us see the yearning and the passion that remain within her. Plantadit’s dancing comes from a core of elegance and restraint; she completes every motion with full extension and a measured pace like she’s dancing through air slightly thicker than what the rest of us breathe, Diaz is sharper, with a kind of tensile strength and resilience in her limbs. The chemistry between Diaz and Steele is lightly flirtatious when they’re talking and sneaking glances at each other–but fiery and passionate when they dance together.
It’s refreshing to see a dance-heavy musical in a space like MCC’s, too–wide rather than deep, and big enough to stage full-cast dance numbers but intimate enough that the whole audience can see the dancers’ faces. And the production elements all work smoothly–David Korins’s set gestures at the curves of Art Deco and adds levels with a swooping staircase, without filling the stage with clutter; the grand piano at the center works as both Hannah’s instrument and Nash’s, as well as a dance platform. Anita Yavich’s costumes, too, evoke the 1920s but without a lot of fuss, using sparkle and fur to dress the royals and a kind of lightly witchy goth for Nash’s narrator. Jeff Croiter’s lighting seems to echo the sparkle in the costumes, adding texture and visual interest throughout.Do I remember any of the songs? Barely (and some of them only because I’d heard them before). Did I care about any of the characters? Also, not really. Did I have a wonderful time? Sure did. Only Gold is polished and charming and thoroughly enjoyable, and the dancing is killer. That’s more than enough.