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Stars elevate 'Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks' at Laguna Playhouse

Leslie Caron and David Engel shine in 'Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks' at Laguna Playhouse

An inordinate degree of audience-savvy skill and no small amount of personal charm distinguishes “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks” at the Laguna Playhouse.

By embracing rather than avoiding the conventional contours of Richard Alfieri's international hit two-hander about an imposing Florida retiree and a salty-tongued dance instructor, this elegant revival pulls the crowd-pleasing combination of sass and sentiment into surprisingly affecting bas-relief.

Credit director Michael Arabian, a first-rate design team and especially screen legend Leslie Caron and local fixture David Engel, who take on the roles of Lily Harrison and Michael Minetti -- indelibly originated by Uta Hagen and David Hyde Pierce in 2001 -- and unexpectedly make them their own.

Indeed, while Caron's French accent and Engel's pert joviality initially seem unlikely casting as a Baptist minister's wife and a world-weary malcontent, mutual empathy and individual charisma largely carry the day.

They bicker, they bristle, they bond and their dances that close each scene -- suavely choreographed by Donna McKechnie, no slouch herself at expression in movement -- convey a palpable emotional connection.

Arabian certainly keeps that element steadily developing and surrounds his headliners with a classy production. John Iacovelli's gulf-front condo set, Kate Bergh's plush costumes, Philip G. Allen's adroit sound and D. Martyn Bookwalter's gorgeous lighting make us ready to overlook how Alfieri's proficient vehicle adheres to the same basic template as countless commercial contrivances, from “The Fourposter” to “I'm Not Rappaport” and beyond.

Because it's finally all about the stars -- think Gigi in the winter of life and “Forever Plaid's” Smudge alive, kicking and sarcastic, and you get the idea. Their unforced interaction and investment trumps certain idiosyncrasies, with a touching final scene, and elevates a boulevard bauble into a bona-fide event.

“Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks,” Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach. 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 4 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sunday; also, 2 p.m. May 31. Ends June 8. $35-$76. (949) 497-2787 or www.lagunaplayhouse.com. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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