On the surface, “Message in a Bottle” seems an unlikely combination of the music of Sting with Kate Prince’s high-energy choreography. But wow—does it ever work! Nearly two dozen phenomenal dancers stun with their talent while relating the emotional story of an emigrating family on a traumatic journey. This incredible performance is not to be missed.
The excellent acoustics of the Hollywood Pantages make the theatre a fitting venue for the production’s North American premiere. Sting’s voice (and sometimes others) soars loud and clear along with music produced, arranged and mixed by Alex Lacamoire, Martin Terefe and Oskar Winberg, and sound design by David McEwan.
Enrapturing light (Natasha Chivers) and video (Andrzej Goulding) design add another dimension to the minimal sets (Ben Stones), moving us with the dancers from a raft on the ocean to a high-security immigration detention center to the various places the migrants who live to wash ashore.
Many of the dancers** are hip-hop artists and choreographers themselves, bringing exceptional professionalism, talent and energy to this ensemble.
While the first act engages us in the plot, “Message in a Bottle” truly comes to life in the second act—when the dance becomes more fluid and powerful, and emotional resonances deepen.
The curtain opens to Sting’s rhythmic and soulful “Desert Rose,” introducing us to a family of five about to be forced to leave their community.
In pastel-colored clothing (costumes by Anna Fleischle) and bathed in golden light, two parents and three teenaged children dance among others as an ensemble with individual panache, punctuated by staccato gestures and somewhat literally following the song beats.
With “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” and “Fields of Gold,” the older son falls in love and marries a woman, adding another incredible dancer to the family, even as things turn dire. The couple’s happiness is short-lived as “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” becomes the ominous soundtrack to the wife’s kidnapping by a gang of hooded men, presumed to be rapist human traffickers.
But “Invisible Sun” provides faith as the remaining family embarks across a violent sea in a flimsy raft with other hopeful refugees, their numerous lanterns the only defense against darkness and death. Not everyone makes it, and the rest are watched carefully by guards during the increasingly sinister “Every Breath You Take.”
As production dramaturg Lolita Chakrabarti notes, the reality is that 100 million people have been forced from their homes as of 2022, with more than 32 million of them refugees, half under 18 years old.
By Act 2, that harrowing ground has been set and the dance sequences become more visceral, the visuals and sound more intense. The strange orb hanging above has moved to the other side of the stage, perhaps signifying a “Brand New Day.”
Detention residents become “Spirits in the Material World.” Individual voices are reduced to “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” against authority, their vulnerability and uncertainty contradicting the song’s upbeat nature, as with a few other songs.
But as the three siblings tentatively find their ways to new homes and cultures—where being an “Englishman in New York” can make one feel “So Lonely”—hope, and even love, once again blossom.
One finds oneself emotionally broken by the sheer beauty and kinetic force of these astonishing dancers—whose talent the music, lighting and video effects only amplify—and the primal human story they tell.
The dancers’ exuberance from first to last is infectious and inspiring in a production otherwise musically and visually genius, taking “Walking on the Moon” to a whole new level of understanding—and making “Message in a Bottle” a must-see theatrical event.
“Message in a Bottle” continues at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, through Feb. 11. Ticket prices start at $35 can be purchased by calling the box office at (866) 755-2929 or visiting BroadwayinHollywood.com. Run time is 1 hour and 50 minutes, including intermission. The show is scheduled to perform at other venues in the U.S. and Canada from February through May.
Nestor Garcia Gonzalez