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Characters in 'Contact' tell their stories through dance


The dance show <i>Contact</i> opens Thursday at the Stranahan Theater and runs through Jan. 16.


Allie Meixner may be forgiven if she's a little distracted next weekend.

"I grew up near Pittsburgh, and I'm a super-big Steelers fan," she said.

While the Steelers are on the field, competing for a berth in football's Super Bowl, Meixner will be on the Stranahan Theater stage, performing in Contact, which opens Thursday and runs through Jan. 16.

Contact is the third show in the Theater League's 2004-05 season in Toledo. It's also the third show of the season choreographed by Susan Stroman. And it's the third for which she won a Tony Award.

But it's a first for Meixner, who, at 18, is still amazed at her luck in landing the iconic role of the Girl in the Yellow Dress.

After graduating from high school last spring, Meixner decided to postpone college until winter quarter and move to New York, where she could audition for shows and take acting, dancing, and singing lessons.

"Everyone said I was crazy, because I didn't have a place to stay and I didn't have that much money saved," she said. "But I got this job a week after I got here, and obviously I'm postponing [college] even more, because I really couldn't turn it down."

The Girl in the Yellow Dress is the reason Contact is in existence, Stroman has said in various interviews. The story goes something like this:

One night in New York, Stroman was visiting an after-hours swing-dancing club. There she saw a pretty young woman in a short yellow dress step onto the dance floor at the beginning of each song and wait. Men approached one by one, and she would either reject their advances or dance with them.

"As I watched her I thought to myself, 'By the end of the night this girl is going to change some guy's life,'" Stroman is reported as saying.

That young woman came to mind in 1998, when Stroman, at the request of Lincoln Center, began working on a musical that would rely more on dance than on song. The sequence Stroman came up with was too short for a full show, so she and playwright John Weidman added two more acts.

"I'm only seen in the third act," Meixner said, explaining that her story revolves around an ultra-successful ad executive who wants to commit suicide.

"He has everything - lots of money, the material rewards - but he doesn't really have contact with another person, and I represent that need for contact, his fulfillment of that need," Meixner said. "But you never really know if the Girl in the Yellow Dress is a dream of his or she actually exists in his life. It's open for interpretation."

The Girl in the Yellow Dress sequence takes place in modern times. The first sequence, The Girl on the Swing, is set in the 17th century, and the second act, Did You Move, takes place in the mid-1950s.

The stories are very different, Meixner said, and there is no connection among the characters from act to act. The connection comes in the underlying theme.

"It's very neat to see. The first act is about sexual contact. The second act is a scene in a restaurant between a wife and a husband, and it's about lack of contact. And the third scene is about the need for contact, the desire for contact, not necessarily sexual contact, just the need to have someone."

Another unorthodox element to Contact is the music.

Instead of commissioning an original score, Stroman and Weidman borrowed music from various sources, including Edvard Grieg, Georges Bizet, the Beach Boys, Benny Goodman, the Squirrel Nut Zippers, and Robert Palmer.

Contact opened in 2000 in New York's Lincoln Center and won Tony Awards for best musical, featured actor and actress, and choreography.

There have been several national tours, but the one that's coming to Toledo is brand-new.

For this tour, Stroman, who is working on the movie version of The Producers (for which she also won directing and choreography Tony Awards), handed responsibility to a trusted colleague, Fergus Logan.

"He's amazing and the cast is great," Meixner said. "Most of the time I can't believe it's a job. I mean, it's a lot of work, too. We learned the entire show in nine days, so there was a lot of writing down the choreography in notebooks and going over it and over it. But now that we know the show, it's a lot of fun."

Given the theme of Contact, it's not surprising that Theater League and the Stranahan are listing it for mature audiences. If the show were a movie, Meixner said she would rate it a PG-13.

"A lot of the stuff, if you brought someone 10 or 11, it would probably go way over their heads. It's definitely PG-13, but it's all done artistically."

"Contact" opens Thursday in the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 and 7 p.m. Jan. 16. Tickets range from $32.50 to $41.50, and seats are available for all shows. Information: 419-381-8851.

Contact Nanciann Cherry at: or 419-724-6130.

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