There couldn’t be a better time to revive Richard Harris’s Stepping Out, an inspirational story about friendship, bonding and self respect, set in a local tap dancing class.
This spring the West End is awash with hoofers, from 42nd Street to American In Paris, so is there room for one more show about a group of women, and one man, struggling to get it right on the night?
The brutal answer is probably not. Stepping Out, which opened this week at the Vaudeville Theatre, is occasionally funny, always touching, and features a fabulous, feelgood, razzle dazzle, finale, but the build-up to it is laboured and clichéd.
The production, directed by Maria Friedman and starring a group of familiar faces from TV, has its heart in the right place, but this touring production should have stayed on the road. While I imagine it going down well in the provinces, it just doesn’t have enough polish for a West End show.
It is more than 30 years since it debuted in a small Surrey theatre and the script – and premise – is showing its age, occasionally deliberately, often unintentionally.
Stepping Out is set in 1983 and overdoses on leg-warmers, leotards, leopard-skin, Princess Di hair and Dynasty shoulder-pads – and for Amanda Holden’s Vera, a major vintage make-up job and hairdo for her unnaturally smooth, inanimate and unyielding face.
Every Thursday a group of misfits meet to take a tap dancing class. Most have two left feet, clumsily trying to follow the steps mapped out by teacher, and former (failed) professional dancer Mavis.
In reality each woman uses the night to escape, if only for a few hours, something in their lives they’d like to forget. The vivacious Maxine (Tracy-Ann Oberman oozing 1980s glamour) struggles at home as stepmother to an errant teen, Vera’s husband is losing interest, uptight Andy occasionally appears bruised and battered and Natalie Casey’s Sylvia has a tea leaf for a hubby.
There’s also a mousy one, Dorothy (Nicola Stephenson), a bubbly black one with a self-deprecating sense of humour (Sandra Marvin) and a plump one, Lynne (Jessica-Alice McCluskey). All bases covered then.
The only man in the class is the indecisive, under confident and terrified-looking, Geoffrey (an unlikely Dominic Rowan), who lost his wife to cancer and is trying hard to make his life for than just about work.
“Why are you here? What do you hope to get out of this?” Mavis asks various members at frequent intervals and the answer is a bit of self-esteem, empowerment and a boost to their battered collective confidence.
The story, such as it is, involves the group rehearsing for a spot in a big charity show. None of the women show any talent for tap dancing but Mavis tries against all the odds to whip them into shape.
It takes 100 minutes of dull repetition, with a bit of social commentary thrown in-between, before we get to the crunch. Will they be alright on the night? What do you think?
Amanda Holden is a delight as the posh, mothering, Vera who flits around with her duster and toilet cleaner amid dance routines. She gets to wear a series of tiny dance costumes that show off her very slim figure and, facially, her frozen expression, caked in awful blue eye shadow and an overdose of orange blusher, is perfect for an insecure wife who married out of her class to a much older man.
Oberman is always watchable, here pouting and preening and doing dodgy deals while moaning about playing the wicked stepmother.
Anna-Jane Casey, who is understudying as Mavis, while Tamzin Outhwaite recovers from a foot injury, is superb. We don’t hear much of her back story but her fragile relationship with class’s testy piano player, Mrs Fraser, (Judith Barker) makes a humorous diversion from the repetition of the dance rehearsal scenes.
Stepping Out is playing at the Vaudeville Theatre until June 17.
Amanda Holden and Tracy-Ann Oberman lead a group of amateur hoofers on a journey of self discovery in Richard Harris Stepping Out.