SONORA — When dance teacher Michael Minetti first meets his elderly student Lily Harrison in her Florida-coast high rise, it seems pretty clear these two will barely make it past ‘Hello,’ let alone their first full lesson. Besides their 30-year age difference, they clash at every turn. A former teacher and minister’s wife, she’s guarded, uptight and suspicious. A former Broadway dancer, he blurts out jokes and insults and swings from glib to desperate to nonchalant in 10 seconds flat. It’s fun to watch, but how will they make it through a six-week dance course? That’s the hilarious and touching journey that unfolds in Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks, a new comedy that opens at Sierra Rep’s East Sonora Theatre stage May 31.
What happens, of course, is the music starts – and this unlikely pair find their common language. Through a lesson a week – swing, tango, waltz, foxtrot, cha-cha and contemporary dance – their friendship unfolds. Michael and Lily may grate against each other when the music stops, but eventually they build trust, understanding and a deep bond.
Written by American playwright Richard Alfieri, the show has been a huge international hit. Since its Los Angeles premiere and Broadway opening, it has been translated into 12 languages, with more than 50 productions in over 20 countries. The New York Post called it “A joy to watch,” The New York Observer wrote that it is “just the right combination of humor and humility to make you laugh and cry at the same time,” and The Hollywood Reporter called it “thoughtful, razor sharp, charming, funny and genuinely moving.”
SRT Artistic Director Scott Viets is directing the show, with SRT’s Becky Saunders (Church Basement Ladies) as Lily and Los Angeles actor Sean Galuszka as Michael. Each did the show last year – Becky in Sacramento and Sean in Palm Springs.
“I’m looking forward to re-entering the world of Michael Minetti,” Galuszka said. “It’s great when you can revisit a character and expand on a role… and Michael definitely spells everything out! He’s authentic and uninhibited... and that’s kind of liberating to play. What I love about him is that he never stays in a mood – he works through them with this craziness. He doesn’t mean 80 percent of what he says, he just blurts things out.”
But Michael doesn’t truly open to Lily until she lets down her guard a bit – and that doesn’t happen until they connect through a few dances.
“He finds such a kindred spirit in her,” Galuszka said. “They should be polar opposites, but they share a common language and it’s a communication of the soul – they both understand that and they need that.”
Saunders said she loves the way the friendship unfolds and credits good writing.
“There are a lot of punch lines and just the right amount of angst,” she said. “It’s not heavy handed. It’s kind of a mother-son relationship. They’re both lonely souls, they connect and end up loving each other.”