Besides providing a living monument to the convertible as America's classic passion pit, Matthew Bourne's "The Car Man" allows alternating principals in his Adventures in Motion Pictures company ample opportunities to put their distinctive signatures on the leading roles of this full-evening dance drama. And cast changes have brought new emotional values and expressive insights to the run at the Ahmanson Theatre.
Take Vicky Evans as Lana, the abused wife who brings disaster to three men in the narrative. Less willful and controlling than Saranne Curtin (previously reviewed), Evans seems victimized by her feelings and glimpses the consequences of her actions only when it's too late. The edge of self-parody in her Act 1 showpiece also earns sympathy and her dance skills remain strong.
Initially approaching the seduced-and-destroyed Angelo as a comic nerd, Arthur Pita eventually dances with a deep sense of the character's pain, but the change proves too abrupt and he seems merely creepy rather than truly threatening in the final scene.
Ewan Wardrop has no trouble seeming genuinely scary in the same scene when he plays Angelo, but his relaxed, one-of-the-gang demeanor makes no effect in Act 1--and, for all his technical strength, he can't dance in character. Pita can and so, of course, can Will Kemp, the original and (so far) unsurpassed embodiment of all facets of this complex role.
But Wardrop makes a spectacular Luca, the sexy drifter who beds both Lana and Angelo. A younger, hotter, less cynical Luca than Alan Vincent portrays, Wardrop represents the archetypal, T-shirted '60s rebel who lives in the moment and is very much ruled by his sexual drives. So the rough-sex duet with Lana--on the table, on the counter, on the floor--becomes overpoweringly intense, and when Wardrop's Luca kisses Angelo, lives change.
But when Wardrop's Angelo kisses Luca, nothing happens. He's got the moves, but the need isn't there. It's an intriguing experiment for Bourne to rotate company members so some might play macho oppressors one night and gay boy toys the next. But as much as the policy freshens "The Car Man," not every dancing actor is so, um, convertible.
"The Car Man," Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown L.A. Tuesdays through Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Also Sept. 30 at 7:30 p.m.; Oct. 4, 11, 18 and 25 at 2 p.m. $25 to $70. Through Oct. 28. (213) 628-2772.