REVIEW: Nickel Mines


Music and Lyrics by Dan Dyer

Book by Andrew Palermo and Shannon Stoeke

Directed and Choreographed by Andrew Palermo


THE VERDICT: Here’s my best stab at describing “Nickel Mines”: It’s a experimental modern dance/musical hybrid about a tragic and surreal school shooting in an Amish community. (Although the bulk of stage time is devoted to the aftermath.) It feels a bit more like a concept album than a traditional musical, scenes are more of vignettes portraying specific emotions than plot points, and it has a keen finger on the pulse of the wake of a tragedy you want to understand but cannot. In total, it’s a sort of lens into all that follows death–a refraction of ghosts and survivors.

“Nickel Mines” will not hit everyone’s heart in the right way. Although it is much more self-assured than most experimental works are, it is firmly experimental, unapologetically nebulous, and requires a great deal of the benefit of the doubt. Mind you, many elements are quite lovely (specifics are noted below), but as a whole your enjoyment will hinge on whether you are willing to find meaning in the show, rather than have it handed to you. For what it’s worth, I count myself in the middle of the spectrum–I found parts of “Nickel Mines” haunting, and other parts vague and overly sentimental.

Check in with yourself, see what I thought stood out below this paragraph, and decide for yourself. (As one usually should, I suppose.)

Here’s your point-by-point on what stood out:

  • Dan Dyer’s music is often quite gorgeous–it’s a mix of gospel, folk, and brimstone. The lyrics, though, are less poetic than their writer believes them to be.
  • Howell Binkley’s lighting design is masterful in its simplicity–it embodies shadows and heavens in equal measure.
  • The ensemble’s dance work is modern and often harrowing. In particular, the chorus of young girls (both victims and survivors, ghosts and those left behind) feel kaleidoscopic. (Naturally, kudos to Andrew Palermo’s choreography work.)
  • As a whole, “Nickel Mines” chooses to not dwell on mere sadness–there is a vivid range of emotions and reflections on display.






Frankly? I have no idea where to put “Nickel Mines,” or where to suggest it might go next. I could imagine a couple of ways it can develop–you could make it more cohesive and firmly rooted in plot, or you could make it more of a concert play (it already feels halfway to the latter.) As it stands, though, it feels so full of emotional conviction, and yet unanchored. I wonder if there’s a possible world where “Nickel Mines” brings every audience in, rather than expects its audiences to come into its world by choice. I think the show itself knows exactly how it feels about the events it depicts and the people it gives a voice. I just wish “Nickel Mines” didn’t make me work to hard to know how it feels, too.

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