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iLuminate Off-Broadway

There’s a lot to recommend concerning “iLuminate”, the impressive Off-Broadway dance/light show, that has flitted around Manhattan for the last few years. Currently it’s showing at the dark and intimate Theatre 80 St. Marks in Manhattan’s East Village (through September 4th), but it also served a stint recently at Midtown’s New World Stages. It’s a gorgeous-looking experience, with some infectious dance moves combining elements of ballet, hip hop, jazz, and contemporary. Heck, there’s even a nifty section with a medley of Michael Jackson hits. A narrative line? Well, there’s a slim hint of one–but it’s barely discernible. And that’s where they lost my 11-year-old son, who was attending his very first Off-Broadway production. This was a sort-of consolation prize, after I failed to obtain “Hamilton” tix after its post-Tony opening of a new ticket block. You see, my preteen is addicted to the music from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s masterpiece. Can you blame him? I’ve already seen Broadway’s “Hamilton” of course, but when I read that “iLuminate” should be a solid entertainment for him…I was intrigued. Well, my boy got bored. “The best laid plans of mice and men…”

It’s my understanding that “iLuminate” ran under an hour in previous incarnations, but the current production runs roughly 90 minutes, and is broken into two acts. Your loose narrative involves Jacob (Charles Way), as a talented young artist who struggles with a world based in reality.  However, his “magical paint brush” is able to take him away from what he doesn’t understand, by giving Jacob the ability to turn the characters of his imagination into actual beings. But a jealous neighbor steals the brush, and creates some horrifying “monsters” with it. Jacob fights to retrieve his astonishing painting tool, and save his town from hatred and destruction.

The “light suits” that are pictured above are pretty incredible to watch in person. Through dance and movement, bodies appear to come apart, lose their heads, leap impressive heights, and even fly. The theater is best kept pitch black to achieve this effect, and this East Village space seemed to have the perfect conditions for it. Miral Kotb created “iLuminate”, and Athena Sunga is the official playwright. It’s Ms. Sunga’s debut in this regard, and truth be told, a little streamlining would help, as the first act feels somewhat elongated, while the second is too abrupt. Maybe the curse of false expectations in thinking we were attending a 60-minute piece? Could be. The dancing was mostly strong, if occasionally a little clunky. There’s some nice, and appropriate, audience participation for the kids, and the choreography was mostly well-timed and placed. Besides Mr. Way, Alessandra Marconi is Ali, Shane Carrigan is Darius, and Lisa Bauford is Ms. Starlight Jones, along with 4 or 5 other performers. There is some, but limited, dialogue. Obviously this show is all about expression through movement. And I believe it would be quite fine for most preteens. My intentions were honorable, but my grade-schooler preferred to be “in the room where it happens”. Maybe next time.

This show rates a 6

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