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REVIEW: Swingin’ in the Ring (Steppingstone Theatre)

Brian Sostek and Megan McClellan in Swingin’ in the Ring. Photo by Paul Virtucio.

Swing dancing, puppetry, and old-time boxing movies combine to create Swingin’ in the Ring, which opened last weekend at Steppingstone Theatre. This hybrid production is the fruit of Sossy Production (the husband and wife team of Megan McClellan and Brian Sostek – also the show’s writers, directors, choreographers, and performers), which also produced last year’s Trick Boxing: Swingin’ in the Ring at Park Square Theatre. Trick Boxing took home an Ivey Award for Choreography and Playwriting; the show now playing at Steppingstone is a modified and condensed version of its parent. The result is a fun hour of storytelling and dance for children.

The storyline of Swingin’ in the Ring reads like a 1930s boxing movie. A new immigrant, Dancing Davy, is selling apples and dodging blows from an irate customer; his moves catch the attention of a crooked fight manager. The manager takes on Davy as a fighter and plans to build up his hype within three weeks to have him be the favorite in a championship match.

Naturally, all is not as it seems: the manager is actually colluding with Tommy, a boxing kingpin who is also the standing champion’s manager. They both expect that the inexperienced Davy will be knocked out in the first round and place huge bets against him.

While training for the bout, Davy meets Bella, a dancing instructor. Bella’s brother Rocky was previously managed by Davy’s manager; although no details are given, things did not work out so well for Rocky. Bella blames Davy’s manager for what happened to Rocky. Bella is determined not to let the same thing happen to Davy so she teaches him to swing dance. In the end, Davy’s dance moves and his grandfather’s watch make for a happy ending with the crooked manager getting his comeuppance.

The greatest laughs in the show come from the boxing scenes. All three bouts are shown with the use of a small box with a doll playing Dancing Davy. During the course of the three different matches, the Davy doll fights a skeleton, a big muscle toy, and a monkey in the championship fight. Sostek moves the dolls and acts as the announcer for the action in the ring. Other than the role of Bella, which is played by McClellan, all the other roles are played by Sostek. He smoothly transitions between the roles of the manager, Dancing Davy, Tommy, and the bookie taking the bets. These seamless transitions are done with slight changes in posture, facial expressions, and accents.

But the best part of the show was the dance sequences with Sostek and McClellan. The duo energetically perform swing, tap, and ballroom dancing across the stage. I found these dance interludes delightful, as did my 4-year-old granddaughter, who sat on the edge of her seat with eyes fixated on the performers each time they did a dance routine. Swingin’ makes for a great hour of family entertainment.

Swingin’ in the Ring plays through May 7 at Steppingstone Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Bev Wolfe