CHOREOGRAPHER Matthew Bourne is best known for flipping his sources: taking a ballet, an opera, a feature film and switching period, location, character-gender until it yields a powerful, newly engaging dance drama.
But Tim Burton's 1990 film "Edward Scissorhands" seemed to need no radical reinterpretation. It offered Bourne his favorite kind of hero -- an embattled young loner -- plus a brooding score by Danny Elfman, a contemporary Gothic visual style, abundant opportunities for social satire, even a shot at another no-hands love duet a la Bourne's "Swan Lake."
As it happened, Bourne made many, many changes to get Burton's tale onto the dance floor, and the result delighted lots of people at the Ahmanson Theatre on Wednesday, the press opening of a three-week run. But you can argue that Burton's film shackled Bourne and his designer, Lez Brotherston, to expectations that don't bring out their best -- that their first act, especially, plays like some movement-for-actors project, with no sustained, satisfying dance until the delicious topiary dream ballet at the end.
Yes, Act 1 is loaded -- maybe overloaded -- with energy, character comedy and special effects. But its panoramic day-in-the-life-of-suburbia divertissement ought to be a lot sharper and Bourne takes far too long to make Edward the true focus and impetus of the action.
Happily, Act 2 grows very dancey indeed and contains some of Bourne's strongest inspirations. He's kinder here to Edward than Burton was, sparing him humiliations and crimes from the film and giving him the hair salon promised but denied him on the screen. And by the time the whole company turns up in a flat-out sensational pop-dance showpiece at the town's Christmas party (a scene not in the film), Bourne seems to be utterly free of his shackles and reimagining another movie entirely.
(Considering his past references to Fred Astaire, is it sheer coincidence that Edward bumps into his ladylove on the dance floor in exactly the way Astaire ended up accidentally partnering Leslie Caron in "Daddy Long Legs," or that Terry Davies' score has stopped adapting Elfman at this point and sounds like it's paraphrasing Johnny Mercer?)
Brotherston's costumes are a wonder (as always) and his sets brilliantly evoke the look of the film; there's even a proscenium that irises in and out, offering the theatrical equivalent of close-ups and long shots. But too many sequences must be played in front of a drop curtain to allow for scene shifts -- including some that seem just padding. And since there's not enough Elfman for the entire work, composer Davies fills in the blanks with new music that serves Bourne's purposes without creating the unified style of Davies' score for "Play Without Words."
The fine New Adventures company that dances "Edward Scissorhands" is not the same ensemble that performed Bourne's "Swan Lake" at the Ahmanson earlier in the year, but brings back a number of exceptional artists from past productions: in Wednesday's cast Etta Murfitt as Edward's adopted mom, Scott Ambler as a dad trying to keep in shape, Michela Meazza as the town nympho. James Leece makes a nasty but dangerously attractive rival to Edward and, at different performances, Hannah Vassallo and Kerry Biggin feelingly portray Edward's dream girl.
Two accomplished dancing actors alternate as Edward. Richard Winsor (seen Wednesday) looks a little like Matthew Perry and seems to believe his character is destined for happiness, for full acceptance in the strange suburban world that adopts him. In contrast, Sam Archer (seen Tuesday) resembles Kevin Bacon and is more profoundly alienated, sweetly hopeful only when love-struck.
Long before you glimpse Winsor or Archer in the final snowfall, "Edward Scissorhands" has cast its spell and you're hooked. But Bourne's "Swan Lake" hooked you in the prologue and never let go, so you wonder why something that seemed such a sure thing is really terrific only half the time.
Where: Ahmanson Theatre,
L.A. Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown L.A.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays
Ends: Dec. 31
Price: $30 to $90
Contact: (213) 628-2772 or www.CenterTheatreGroup.org