Saturday, March 17, 2018

REVIEW: VideoGame Comes Alive - Just Dance Live comes to Chicago March 15-18

I got an invitation to check out a cool new quasi-theatrical experience last night.  It's Just Dance Live, a two-hour-plus dance party that's half stage show, half audience wish-fulfillment.  It's basically a Family Friendly Dance Rave.  It's playing at the Aon Ballroom in Chicago for the next couple of nights, before going on tour to a few other US cities.

I was going to take my son, but he got a sleepover invitation that he preferred over the show.  He and his friend were going to play video games for most of the night (as far as I know, not Just Dance, but it would be sort of poetic justice if it was.  I'll have to ask!)

DISCLOSURE:  I received complimentary tickets to this show with the hopes that I would write about it.  The free-ness of the tickets does not affect what I write about the show.  I respect my integrity, and so should you.

The show is aimed at the Just Dance crowd, which seems to be (based on my non-scientific estimates of roughly 150-200 people in the audience) a wide swath of the population. There were people there all ages, all shapes, all colors.  The one thing they all seemed to have in common was a love to dance.  I'd say that the average age in the room was 17, partially because a lot of people came with their parents, who sat politely in the corner.  The average age of the dancers was probably 12 or 13, but I saw a few people who might easily have been grandparents also shaking their tailfeathers.

What does the Fox Say?  Or better yet, how does he/she dance?
The whole show starts with the "Just Get Ready For It Experience."  There were face painters, obligatory merch salesmen, selfie opportunities, costumed characters and garishly wigged dancers aplenty, and a live trivia show about the Ubisoft video game hosted by reality tv star Nia Sioux (Dance Moms). She seemed personable enough, and her crowd was filled with people who knew some arcane trivia about Just Dance.

After about an hour of pre-show, the doors opened downstairs, and into the vast Aon Ballroom we went.   Three stages were set up in the audience, (as well as the traditional ballroom stage), fog filled the room, and the party began with a dance warmup.  It was clear that many people had played the game before because they seemed to know all the moves.

The air was full of confetti snow.
From there, the show was pretty fast-paced, as action cut from one stage to another, with very little gaps in between.  In addition to liberal uses of the fog machine, there were plenty of laser lights, video projections, and crazy over the top wigs and costumes.  The video projections were great and very dramatic, sometimes verging on vertigo-inducing.  There were piles and piles of confetti snow, which I tracked back to my house later as it got all over my clothes and hair.

I ended up tracking "snow" home with me.
There was also at least one great effect, in which the scene was transformed from the icy steppes of Siberia (or maybe it was Elsa's Frozen castle?) to more tropical climes, as some cast members pulled a giant blue sheet over the entire audience, tenting us in blue for a moment.  By the time the cloth had passed over the entire audience, a set of costumed fruit was ready to start dancing to Calypso music.  It was a nice transition.

The show was directed by Kim Gavin, who is a well-known theatrical and spectacle director from England (he directed the closing ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics in London) .

I spoke to one of the actors doing the pre-show, who told me the whole show was rehearsed in London before coming over here.    This is the pilot tour, they are performing in four cities, seeing how it goes, and if it is successful, they will probably try to bring it to more cities upcoming.

The sets and effects were designed by a firm named Stufish, which has designed and produced 3 or 4 shows for Cirque du Soleil, as well as a number of rock concerts for huge names (Rolling Stones, Lady Gaga, and others) as well as the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.  The design team clearly knew what they were doing, although I wouldn't say there was anything ground shattering about the work. It was competent and professional and engaging. Likewise with the performers. I didn't notice any virtuosic dancers or any standout performers. They were all young and energetic and interchangeable.  They had a juggler who was competent (juggled three balls, walked on a rolling globe) but he was not a top end juggler.  He was merely a juggler.

But to me this makes perfect sense-this fits in perfectly with the aesthetic of Let's Dance.  The fun of dancing trumps the skill, and anyone can have a good time by giving themselves over to the beat.

(ADDED NOTE:  It turns out the juggler was also my friend Joe Dieffenbacher! Joe played the master of ceremonies in the show, as well as the Juggler.  I didn't realize he was touring with these guys, and   I didn't recognize him, and he thought he recognized me in the crowd, but he thought I still lived in NY!  It's a small world!)

I recommend this show for anyone who likes the Just Dance video game, or likes crazy dance parties that don't involve altered states.

Regular ticket prices start at $ 45. A limited number of specially priced family four packs are available for each performance — early birds can receive four tickets for the price of three (a 25% savings)! A limited amount of VIP packages ($95-$99) are also available and include priority entry to the show, exclusive merchandise (Glow Up Glasses, Exclusive Draw String Bag, and VIP Glow Laminate), a JUST DANCE in-game reward and a VIP meet & greet with the cast after the show.

Tickets are available for purchase at and group tickets can be purchased by calling group sales at 1-866-468-3399.

Next tour dates include Houston March 22-25 and Los Angeles March 29-31.

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