It's taken rather longer than expected for Paul Kerryson's revival of Rodgers and Hart's classic On Your Toes, first seen in May 2002 at the now dark Leicester Haymarket (See News, 20 May 2003; The Goss, 6 Aug 2003), to make its way to London. But I'd say it was well worth the wait.
Despite being written in 1936, some 35 years before he was born, the part of Junior Dolan seems custom-made for Adam Cooper. This is a musical set in the world of ballet, after all, and as such, provides ample opportunity for former Royal Ballet and Adventures in Motion Pictures principal Cooper, playing the closet toe-tapper, to show off his skills and raise knowing laughs while doing so.
For example, how perfect that Junior's favourite ballet is Swan Lake, the AMP all-male version of which made Cooper an international star, both on stage and on screen as the grown-up Billy Elliott. And to witness Cooper, in the Princess Zenobia "opening night" sequence, gamely attempting to dance badly is a hoot.
The exciting prospect of art imitating life in this production is amplified by two other factors. First, that Cooper has choreographed here as well. "I have a few ideas about how the ballet should be danced," says Junior at one point. We bet you do, Adam. And evidently, they're quite good ones, too, as the rapturous response to the On Your Toes' dance numbers proves.
The second factor, new to this London season, is the addition to the cast of Sarah Wildor, who plays Russian prima ballerina Vera Baronova. Wildor, last seen stunningly in the West End in Contact, is also a former principal for AMP and the Royal Ballet, where she danced with Cooper, and now, no former about it, his wife. The heat that these two generate on stage together, particularly when dancing, is incredible. What's more, Wildor displays some fine comic acting.
Also new to the cast is musical stalwart Anna-Jane Casey, who's in fine voice as Junior's less mercurial love interest Frankie. Vocally, Kathryn Evans continues to bring down the house as ballet bankroller Peggy Porterfield, belting out the penultimate number "You Took Advantage of Me" and, another dance icon, Irek Mukhamedov as the libidinous Konstantine, still proves that age does not wither true talent nor cheeky chappy charisma.
And, of the famous Slaughter on Tenth Avenue ballet finale? All I can say is ... Wow! More please!
- Terri Paddock
NOTE: The following review dates from May 2002 and this production's original run at the Leicester Haymarket.
It's a stellar cast that takes to the Leicester Haymarket stage for this revival of the Rodgers and Hart show On Your Toes as part of the Richard Rodgers' centenary celebrations. And it's all the more stellar thanks to Royal Ballet principal Adam Cooper (star of Adventures in Motion Pictures' Swan Lake and the grown-up Billy Elliot in the smash hit film) who both choreographs and plays the lead, Junior.
Set in 1930s New York, Junior, a third generation vaudeville headliner, is working as a music teacher. When the famous Russian Ballet arrives in town, he tries to engineer a meeting with the ballet's decision-makers so they'll help stage a new jazz ballet, the creation of one of his students Sidney (a generically strong Simon Coulthard). In so doing, though, Junior gets caught up in a passionate love triangle.
Matters are complicated by Russian prima ballerina Vera (danced by the stunning Marguerite Porter) and her lover's rows with the fiery and temperamental Konstantine (the equally brilliant Irek Mukhamedov), who is determined to win her back to his bed. And poor trusting Frankie (beautifully played and sung by Linzi Hateley) just tries to keep hold of her man.
There isn't much more to the On Your Toes plot than that and, frankly, the score lacks the distinction of tunes catchy, hummable and or in any way memorable enough to make a good show a classic. Instead, it's very much the dancing that wins the day and the cheers. Although some of the ensemble is at times scrappy, there's some lovely character work from the likes of multi-talented and multi-roled Coulthard, Clare Holmes and Greg Pichery.
The sensational title number, where the ballet traditionalists and the tapping hoofers rival it out before one glorious explosion of colour and dance, and the famous jazz ballet "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" both bring roars of approval. And leading man Cooper is simply sensational. Somehow, director Paul Kerryson also entices ballet stars Cooper, Porter and Mukhamedov to sing and act almost as well as they dance, and Leicester regular Kathryn Evans really goes to town when she belts out the sassy "You Took Advantage of Me".
Leicester surely has another hit musical on its hands. With a bit of luck, this On Your Toes could have audiences on their feet at a theatre near you soon. It certainly deserves it.
- Elizabeth Ferrie