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Running With Scissorhands

(Photo by Bill Cooper)

A Gothic castle belonging to a wild-haired genius with a dark penchant for playing God towers at the end of a suburban street of tract houses. Before long, blood is spilled and cries for retribution echo across a morally barren landscape. Connections, of course, between L.A. homicide suspect Phil Spector and the titular subject of Matthew Bourne’s newest dance spectacle, Edward Scissorhands, are purely coincidental. The wall-of-sound inventor remains out on bail, while the man-made Edward Scissorhands, attired in a leather body suit and flashing steel blades for fingers, was the outcast hero of Tim Burton’s 1990 film starring Johnny Depp. Scissorhands reappears at the Ahmanson Theatre as Richard Winsor (Sam Archer on alternate performances of this double-cast ensemble). The character is a visual homage to Slovenly Peter, the shock-headed young man with clawlike nails from Der Struwwelpeter, Heinrich Hoffmann’s 19th-century cautionary book of illustrated children’s stories.

Director/choreographer Bourne’s wordless story broadly follows the movie: We see how Edward, after the death of his inventor (Adam Galbraith/Andrew Corbett), is taken in and cared for by a generous housewife, Peg (Etta Murfitt/Madelaine Brennan/Rachel Morrow), whose neighbors adore Edward’s prowess as a hair cutter and topiary sculptor; and how Edward falls for Peg’s daughter, Kim (Hannah Vassallo/Kerry Biggin) — even though he cuts, slices or scores nearly everything his mechanical hands touch. Leaning on equal parts Offenbach and Danny Elfman, Terry Davies’ score conveys the romantic heart beating inside Edward’s clockwork body.

Most of Bourne’s work involves outsiders looking in — the prince in Bourne’s Swan Lake becomes fatefully enamored of the erotic grace of the swans he encounters in a park one night, and, similarly, for Edward, the Hope Springs High School cheerleaders are swanlike creatures who remind him that his deformity makes him inferior to the town’s clumsiest lover. This is why the show’s greatest moment of choreography is a fantasy during which Edward loses his blades to dance with Kim among twirling topiary figures.

Bourne somewhat inexplicably moves the film’s period from the present to the 1950s — the favorite decade of sociologists and costume designers. Perhaps this is supposed to heighten the feeling of Levittown conformity or to accent some of the characters’ rock-&-roll-fueled rebellion, even though everyone knows tract houses are home to the lives of loudest desperation and that most rockers turn into their timid parents soon enough.

As visually dazzling as Edward Scissorhands is, thanks to the gifted set- and costume-designer Lez Brotherston, Bourne hasn’t clarified his storylines, so that we’re never sure who or what we’re looking for. A repressed Christian family lurks from the edges ominously enough, but they never step forward as Edward’s persecutors. Likewise, the whorey housewife (Michela Meazza/Mikah Smillie) is all over Edward but, against expectation, doesn’t figure in his downfall. Another problem is how accepting most of the suburbanites are of a man with freaky hair and razor-sharp blades for fingers moving in next door. Perhaps it would be a different story had Edward simply been black, but Edward Scissorhands is the ultimate white boy, an awkward freak of nature who can neither dance nor play ball.

Bourne’s Edward remains a compelling character but the careful embrace of the new kid on the block by his new neighbors weakens Edward’s threat to them — and short-circuits the possibilities for dramatic tension. He can wear all the leather and wave all the switchblades he wants, yet, as everyone accepts Edward, he cannot suggest an aberrant narrative to the status quo but merely serve as doll to be hugged to death by a narcissistic community.

EDWARD SCISSORHANDS | Adapted and choreographed by MATTHEW BOURNE | At the AHMANSON THEATRE, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn. | Through December 31 | (213) 628-2772