Well, Tim Burton it isn't. Since Matthew Bourne's Edward Scissorhands is inspired by Burton's delightful but dark 1990 film, a comparison seems fair enough. Right off the top, Bourne's dance musical has neither the gentleness nor the creepy underbelly of the filmed adaptation of Caroline Thompson's gothic story. It's coarser, more cartoonish, and fits too smoothly into the conventions of the Broadway musical.
And yet there is a lot to be said for what Bourne has done. Most important, he has made the parable his own. He tells his version of the old story clearly and with a light touch. It's the one about the outcast who is destroyed by the civilization into which he is thrust. But it's also a story of growth from naïveté to wisdom, a tale with a twist in the happy ending. These threads are woven into an at-times entertaining, mostly well-paced, and always splendidly performed piece of musical theater.
Edward Scissorhands (Sam Archer) is a leather-clad creature created by an inventor (Adam Galbraith) who is literally scared to death by Halloween pranksters — leaving the unfinished boy an orphan. How Edward makes his way in the world, becoming more vulnerable as he becomes more human, takes up the bulk of the story. Archer brilliantly realizes the trajectory, from stumbling through life to learning about love and pain to ultimate self-acceptance.
Lez Brotherston's fabulous sets and costumes create a Hope Springs in which perfect tract houses and perfect families are perfectly color coded. Bourne creates amusing portraits of these homes in which the men go to work and play sports while the more or less desperate housewives keep the family machinery humming. It's a world of sibling rivalries, raging hormones, secret lives, and unrealized aspirations. Within the stock character tradition in which he chooses to work, Bourne creates reasonable facsimiles of the kindly Peg Boggs (Etta Murfitt), the poodle-walking Charity Upton (Mikah Smillie), and the ever-pregnant Gloria Grubb (Mami Tomotani). But the scene-stealer is the local vamp, the man-eating Joyce Monroe (a splendid Michaela Meazza), who regularly cuckolds her husband (Steve Kirkham), an adoring father.
Bourne specializes in a genuinely new form of musical theater. At his best — Swan Lake, Cinderella, and Play Without Words — he creates characters and situations that resonate with theatrical truth. That's exactly where I felt many parts of Scissorhands came up short. The big production numbers, in particular "The Boggs's Barbecue" and "Christmas in Hope Springs," fell flat. One sensed that Bourne, who clearly loves the energy of social dancing, has watched a lot of movie musicals. But he doesn’t give a fresh perspective on the genre. During "Christmas" I couldn't help but think of the sparkling invention seen in the holiday party scene in Mark Morris's The Hard Nut.
Yet there are moments when the choreography works excellently. "The Suburban Ballet," depicting the town's awakening and daily activities, was smartly layered and fast paced, with many clever touches. It was great fun to watch. "A Portrait of Kim," which takes place in the bedroom of the Boggses' teenage daughter (Kerry Biggins as the ingenue), has an intriguing premise. Deposited into this pink boudoir, a bewildered Edward admires three life-size pictures of Kim. They come alive through his yearning glances. Unfortunately, what could have been an enchanting dream ballet was shortchanged by bland und undistinguished choreography.
"Topiary Garden" was Scissorhands' more successful dream ballet. Bourne had Edward and Kim waltzing through and with whimsically trimmed, tutu-wearing bushes. Though using fairly standard steps and patterns — I saw echoes of both Fred Astaire and George Balanchine — he deftly combined them for a first act closer resplendent with wit, charm, and emotion.
The "Farewell" pas de deux, at the end of the piece, showed just how good Bourne can be.