Review: Only Gold Glitters as a Vibrant Ode to the Expressiveness of Dance

A new musical from Andy Blankenbuehler, Kate Nash, and Ted Malawer premieres off-Broadway.

In a Great Gatsby-gone-steampunk whirlwind of gold embellishments, shimmering metallic backdrops, and an entire solar system of art deco lighting orbs, MCC Theater’s new musical Only Gold transports you to a semi-mythical, irrevocably magical place in Paris, circa 1928. As the audience trickles in, a speaker subtly emanates a slow tick-tock. Two half-dressed lovers arrive onstage, a man and woman enrobed in his white dress shirt. As he interrupts her post-rendezvous bliss by pulling off the shirt, him grasping one sleeve and her the other, a tug-of-war pas de deux erupts between the couple as she glides across the stage.

Only Gold — with a score by pop singer Kate Nash, direction and choreography by Hamilton Tony winner Andy Blankenbuehler, and book by Blankenbuehler and Ted Malawer — follows a family of royals from the fictional kingdom of Cosimo. We learn from the narrator (Nash) that there is tension between King Belenus (Terrence Mann) and Queen Roksana (Karine Plantadit): the King has grown cold through years of fulfilling his duties to his kingdom, and the Queen has grown tired of waiting for him to remember that she stands here beside him.

Enter Princess Tooba (Gaby Diaz), the King and Queen’s spunky daughter desperate to defy her parents and “burn shit to the ground.” Fruitlessly, the King is attempting to pair Tooba with a suitor (Tyler Hanes) and announces that they will be embarking to Paris to meet him. But Tooba is falling for Jacques (Ryan Steele), a hotel bellhop assigned to watch over her. In a parallel storyline, a clockmaker named Henri (Ryan Vandenboom) and his wife, Camille (Hannah Cruz), contemplate the financial struggles that are driving them apart as they try to reclaim their long-gone dreams of success.

To call Only Gold a dance piece is an understatement, as dance is the primary language spoken onstage in this musical. It’s the type of show we’ve seen less and less over the years, which trusts movement to propel the story forward instead of stopping it cold. In true Blankenbuehler fashion, there is rarely a beat between numbers, and it should come as no surprise that his work makes us feel like we’re all collectively discovering the magic of theatrical dance for the first time again.

Nash has written an eccentric, poppy-folksy score, orchestrated for 10 instruments by Cian McCarthy, who makes it feel like many more players than that. He accentuates this quirky fairytale with the grassy tones of violin and viola, the edge of electric guitar, and the bubbly brightness of synths. The scenic design by David Korins dips this story into liquid gold, dripping with rich tones, shimmering textures, and incandescent reflections of Jeff Croiter’s prismatic lighting design.

As we follow the journeys of the women of Only Gold, we think of the timeless, Ibsen-esque question that constantly arises: Do we prioritize our duties to our families, or our duty to ourselves? This intense deliberation is explored in Cruz’s explosive number “Bones and Dust,” as well as a stunning balancing-act of a dance featuring Plantadit both figuratively and literally breaking free of the constraints of the Queen’s marriage. Their masterful performances — Cruz’s vocal and Plantadit’s physical — give their characters palpable fortitude, which propels them into these moments of empowerment.

As for Diaz, her simultaneous fluidity and ferocity in dance conveys both Tooba’s edgy exterior and the underlying softness we see unfurl as her relationship with Jacques develops. Mann, meanwhile, commands the stage: When he speaks, we listen, and when he sings, we’re captivated. His performance in the edgy ballad “I Possess the Power” harks back to his swaggering turn as Rum Tum Tugger, making us swoon like it’s 1982 all over again.

In an era of musical-theater where existing pop songs are strung together to appeal to the masses, Only Gold captures the magic of old Broadway, but with a contemporary take on balletic choreography and a sharply crafted score, altogether making this resonant story about love and the time we dedicate to it extraordinarily refreshing.