First a play that premiered in the West End in 1984 (and ran for nearly three years), then a 1991 film (starring Liza Minnelli and Julie Walters) and then turned into a stage musical in 1996, Stepping Out has looped, or maybe that should be tap-danced, back to its origins as a modest but sometimes marvellous West End comedy.
Inhabiting a very English, very parochial world of a village hall, it revolves around a weekly evening tap class that convenes there to not so much tap their troubles away as bring them into the room with them in a series of little vignettes. Richard Harris's play may have as much staccato grace as the awkward dance routines they rehearse, but instead of being limitations both actually make this celebration of the cult of the amateur even more endearing.
It's a small play with a big heart. And Maria Friedman -- following in the footsteps of another Sondheim musical actress Julia McKenzie turned director -- stages it with feeling and grace. Really it's a show about the diverse personalities of the seven women (and one solitary, recently widowed man in his 40s) that come to the class, plus the teacher Mavis and the piano accompanist, and each sparkles here, sometimes literally thanks to the garish 80s dance gear one sports after a trip to Pineapple dance studios.
Amanda Holden is good casting as the snooty, insensitive busybody Vera, though she hardly varies the tone and pitch of her performance throughout. Fortunately there are more likeable performers around her, with Tracy-Ann Oberman, Sandra Marvin and Dominic Rowan amongst the stand-outs as fellow students at the class. It is also led with panache by Anna-Jane Casey, a late stand-in for Tamzin Outhwaite (who fractured her foot just before the opening), as the teacher, and a wonderfully brittle and funny Judith Barker as pianist Mrs Fraser.
With The Girls also now in the West End offering a demonstration of indomitable female community spirit, here's another show to celebrate much the same thing, but with added tap-dancing.
What the Press Said...
"There are matchingly accomplished turns wherever you look, which, given the sitcom sketchiness of the writing, is no mean feat."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"Well-meaning revival takes step in wrong direction."
Fiona Mountford for The Evening Standard
External links to full reviews from popular press