Something special: Syncopation

Bridewell Theatre, London
March 16, 2024

Premiered in 1999, winner of an American Theatre Critics Best New Play award, and now getting its UK premiere, Syncopation is an absolute gem!

Written by Allen Knee, and directed by Karen Jemison, it is perhaps best described as a play with dance, although there is a lot of dance. Indeed, when staged in new York in 2017, it was done so as a collaboration with State Street Ballet.

The two-hander is played with consummate skill by Devon-Elise Johnson and Jye Frasca. Both trained as actor, dancer, singer, and come with long lists of credits, but their performances here are something special. Indeed, they would be worthy Olivier winners.

Jye Frasca and Devon-Elise Johnson in Syncopation
Photo Manilla Street Productions

The story is beautifully simple. Set in New York in 1912, a down-at-heel ballroom dancer, Henry Ribolow, dreaming of winning competitions and becoming famous, advertises for a dance partner. She turns-up in the form of a factory girl Anna Bianchi, with dreams of her own. The story develops around this unlikely relationship, taking in a swathe of politics, social commentary, and the emotions of two people trying, in very different ways, to change the little bit of the world that they inhabit.

The writing is thoughtful and elegant, not a word is out of place, the audience immediately immersed in their lives, as ‘fly on the wall’ observers. Musical director and arranger Fiz Shapur captures just the right levity and desperation with a score that perfectly underlines the writing; and what a joy to have that music performed live. The three-piece band are excellent.

Devon-Elise Johnson and Jye Frasca in Syncopation
Photo Manilla Street Productions

The ballroom dancing is skilfully choreographed by Jenny Thomas, and presented in such a way that leaves you totally convinced by Johnson’s acquisition of this skill through the play.

The final accolade must go to the two performers, Johnson and Frasca, they are outstanding. There is no other word for it. And while it is great to see them in such an intimate close-up setting, Syncopation deserves to be picked-up and transferred to the West End. Seldom have two performers, or a musical play, deserved it more.

Go and see it, take all your friends, go twice, spread the word. Here is something very special indeed.

Syncopation runs at the Bridewell Theatre until April 13, 2024. More details also available at