What Rio, now at The Theatre at St. Clement's, really has going for it is the Mitch Magonet-Joey Miller music with its propulsive pulse of samba and bossa nova rhythms -- especially heard in its sizzling 11 o'clock number -- and the work of choreographers Kate Dunn and Ron De Jesus, who get the show's spirited 12-member cast moving sinuously to those driving beats.
As the title suggests, the musical unfolds in the titular Brazilian city, where the under-class natives live in favelas and only dream of climbing up the hill to a better life. Among them are twelve-year-old Pipio (Nicholas Daniel Gonzalez), who dreams of finding his mother.
However, having witnessed corrupt police officer Ferreira (Lelund Durond) shoot six street children to death, he becomes a pawn in a scheme planned by dealer Samson (Nik Walker). His only protector is Samson's samba-teacher girlfriend Neves (Tanesha Ross).
As one might gather, the work is a not-so-subtle spin on Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, which is not a bad idea at all. Still, it would have been better if Magonet and Miller--serious as they are about the abuse of children manifesting itself in many societies -- had been less cursory in their transformation of the great novelist's plot. Even more helpful would be songs -- not simply rhythms -- that stick to the ribs.
As for the acting troupe, director Scott Faris appears to have cast them, in this order, for their dancing, singing, and acting skills, with the true sole triple-threat performer being J. Manuel Santos as a small-time hood with a conscience. It's an approach with benefits and its detriments depending on what the members are asked to do at any given time.
-- David Finkle