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A mystery in motion in 'The Jazz Age'

Kevin Leines has the world on a string as Detective Henry Phillips in ‘The Jazz Age’ at The Phipps. Phillips takes the case of Bernadette Starr, a murdered starlet who was loved by many, but not all. Rebecca Mariscal / RiverTown Multimedia 1 / 3
Bernadette Starr, played by Mackenzie Heisler, confidently takes the lead in a performance, though ultimately it is her death that leads the show ‘The Jazz Age’ at The Phipps. Fellow dancers and a cast of other characters become the suspects in this murder-mystery story told mainly through dance RiverTown Multimedia2 / 3
The connection between Bernadette Starr, played by Mackenzie Heisler, and George Walter, played by Patrick Jeffrey, is instantaneous at their first meeting in ‘The Jazz Age’ at The Phipps. Their affair becomes a thing of interest when Starr is murdered. Rebecca Mariscal / RiverTown Multimedia 3 / 3

"The Jazz Age" tells a thrilling, heartfelt tale of love, glamour, spotlights and murder, and it does it all in very few words.

The most powerful narrative of The Phipps' Dance Theater production comes, perhaps unsurprisingly, through movement. The skill of the choreography is to be expected from a Phipps Dance Theater production, but this performance brings a new level of storytelling to the movement.

In the height of the titular Jazz Age, Bernadette Starr, played by Mackenzie Heisler, dances her way to a starring role, with little concern for who she steps on during her climb. When Starr is found dead in her dressing room, and a quiet understudy is accused as the killer, Detective Henry Phillips takes the case. Played by Kevin Leines, Phillips questions the wide variety of characters in Miss Starr's life from her hovering guardian to jealous castmates.

Phillips' questions spark a series of flashback to Starr's life, all told in dance pieces. Brief scenes of dialogue set up the musical numbers.

Though the limited script provides context, the story could be told without it. Choreographers Heisler, Talya Dozois, Christina Leines and Regan Saunders, along with show writer Jeff Iblings, have put together a performance that is both fun and eloquent. From the upbeat steps of a jazz performance to the lamented movements of a life lost, each motion shapes the story like a spoken word.

The most expressive performances come from Heisler and Patrick Jeffrey, who plays Starr's married boyfriend George Walter. The first meeting of the two lovers is wordless, but the audience is drawn in by the performers' dance, sharing in their connection from first sight to first touch and beyond. Their movements express the hesitation and intrigue, and then the intimacy and tenderness of the relationship.

Heisler's performance brings an even greater depth to her character's path, as we see her transform from the grandiose moves and beaming face of a confident starlet to the poignant motions and reserved expressions of a scared woman seeking freedom and safety.

The performances from the dancers elevates the classic whodunit story to one that further pulls the audience into the mystery of the case and the emotions of all involved.

Beautiful costumes bring all the glitz and glam one expects from the jazz age, with clean suits and flapper dresses decked out with fringe and sequins.

The Phipps' main stage is set well for the performance. A simple multi-level set up with a striking pop of copper makes up the center of the stage, and both of the side wings are used as well.

"The Jazz Age" runs weekends through Jan. 20, with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. on Sundays.

Rebecca Mariscal

Rebecca Mariscal joined the Hudson Star Observer as a reporter in 2016. She graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a degree in communication and journalism. 

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