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December 18, 2023
How To Dance In Ohio
Photo by Curtis Brown

When we become part of an audience, we bring more than our physical selves to the theater. We bring our experiences, our attitudes and even our prejudices. When I attended the matinee of “How to Dance in Ohio '' at the Belasco Theatre, I went as a critic, but found myself reacting as part of the college support team for students with disabilities where I work. The performers, a group of seven autistic young adults, reminded me of several of our students. Their stories and behaviors felt very familiar and endearing.

The 2 ½ hour musical, based upon a documentary of the same name directed by Alexandra Shiva, is about a group of autistic young people who attend a social skills workshop directed by Dr. Emilio Amigo (Caesar Samayoa.) He suggests that they hold a spring formal dance that will provide an opportunity for them to learn to dance, practice their ‘small talk’ and buy clothes. (A later scene in Macy’s between the mothers of two of the girls is charming.) The young people might also want to ask dates to come and that is always risky, no matter your situation.

The musical features several talented young autistic performers, all of whom sing well. “How To Dance in Ohio” is warmly directed by Sammi Cannold, making her directorial Broadway debut. The major conflict of the musical arises when Dr. Amigo becomes the focus of both a blog that is posted too early and an attractive journalist. Suddenly the attention is on him. He also begins making decisions for his clients.

Like the blog article, the show spends too much time on Dr. Amigo. Samayo is caring and sympathetic but he has too much time onstage and too many songs when we really want to hear more from the young people.

We learn about the young peoples’ problems and watch as they learn to cope. The seven young people are obviously autistic and manifest it. Yet a few characters are more developed than are others. The smiling upbeat Remy, (Desmond Luis Edwards) with his outrageous costumes, is working on his webinar. Drew (Liam Pearce) is a whiz at electronics and sings about circuitry. He must decide if he will leave the comfort of Ohio to attend school in Michigan. Maridith (Madison Kopec) finds comfort in facts and quickly avoids social interactions, escaping into her books. Two of the main characters -Jessica (Ashley Wool) and Caroline (Amelia Fei) behave and interact like typical teenage girls, liking boys but sometimes letting them interfere with their friendship. We come to care more about the ones whose personalities are better drawn.

Their stories are warm and touching and some of their parents appear in the musical singing of their hopes and frustrations for their children. Amigo is also a parent, and he tries to discourage his own daughter Ashley, from dropping out of dancing school.

With book and lyrics by Rebekah Greer Melocik and music and arrangements by Jacob Yandura, the music generally works well. The dancing is not chorus line quality, but it is good enough. It’s the sincerity of the performers that wins over the audience. By the end, Dr. Amigo has learned his lesson and so have the kids. Sometimes to succeed, you need to take risks. The show advertises that it is authentic and actual autistic people star in a show about autistic people. I hope that will not turn some people off. A ticket to “How to Dance In Ohio” is not a risk- it has enough feel-good moments for everyone.

Belasco Theatre
111 W. 44th Street
New York, NY

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Written by: Elyse Trevers
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