On Your Toes

If you've been waiting out the year it's taken for the Leicester Haymarket production of Rogers and Hart's 1936 musical comedy On Your Toes to come to London, be glad that producer Raymond Gubbay has at last found a home for it. That home, unfortunately, is the vast Royal Festival Hall, already the former home of two other Gubbay shows, last summer's disappointing Follies and the monochrome Christmas production of Peter Pan. As with Follies, On Yours Toes is directed by Paul Kerryson, who is again faced with the task of filling the Hall's huge 'stage' and transmitting the product into the even larger auditorium. Kerryson certainly gains polish and clarity from the longer rehearsal period (Follies was only allowed two weeks), but again ultimately loses out to the Hall's expanse. Dialogue scenes flop like a cat off a diving board, the humour perhaps being a little too sharp (although laced with corker lines) to make impact when it needs to travel hundreds of metres to reach its receiver. Kerryson also lets some of the narrative progress painfully slowly and so, in contrast with the energetic company dance numbers, the pace dips to an all time low. These problems aside, On Your Toes is still a delight of a show, arguably being Rogers and Hart's best collaboration. The material is not without its own problems; a feather weight plot (involves a New York music professor who finds himself starring in a Russian ballet troupe while being hunted by Mafia assassins) and a more sedate second half, often made me yearn for a good old song `n'dance. When one comes along, it is often thoroughly rewarding, and Rogers'score is gorgeously sung, even if Hart's lyrics are often inaudible.

Adam Cooper, who stars as university professor and closeted dancer Junior Dolan, choreographs with a sure hand on jazz and balletic styles. If his choreography does not buzz with originality, it is suitably stylish and energetic. However, his send up of a dire Russian ballet, The Princess Zenobia, is stimulating and amusingly climactic and his blending of Russian classicism and American jazz in the routine for the title number is stunning. As a performer, the former Royal Ballet star is just at home with tap as he is with the other styles required of him. His graceful dancing is complemented by a pleasant singing voice, even if, like the book, his acting is a little lightweight. The support is generally strong, with Sarah Wildor being a hoot as a loud-mouthed Russian dancing diva (and of course dancing with grace and sensitivity). Anna Jane Casey makes the most of an essentially under-written love interest role and is touchingly sweet and sings with an effortless beauty, while Kathryn Evans is also note worthy, and brings the house down as she gradually boozes up with the song "You Took Advantage of Me".

A lot would be gained from the intimacy of a smaller theatrical venue, but unless a transfer comes along, punters should find themselves satisfied enough by this entertaining if flawed piece of escapist fun.

(Jonathan Richards)

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