Taking its title from Irving Berlinís sassy 1940s number, Richard Harrisís crowd pleaser is a tale of ten lives - trim tap tutor Mavis, ascerbic accompanist Mrs Fraser and the eight aspiring hoofers in their weekly evening class.
As they strut their stuff in designer Julie Godfreyís pleasingly authentic church hall, we find out all about the lives and loves, hopes and fears of teachers and pupils.
For the pupils, tap-dancing night is a longed-for escape from humdrum existence and the frustrations of family life. For their leaders, itís a not entirely convincing livelihood (Mavis and Mrs F survive on the weekly fees of just eight pupils), which becomes equally life-affirming when the class votes to take part in a showcase performance to a real live audience.
What impresses in Martin Connorís sparky production is the way each character engages our sympathies and invites us into their lives with a deftly sketched insight into what makes them tick. We really believe in the off-stage cast Ė problem partners, offspring and parents Ė and onstage alliances and feuds over the months.
Painfully shy Andy (a sensitive portrait by Sarah Haynes) tries to take refuge from an abusive partner in the arms of equally shy Geoffrey, the sole male class member Ė a convincingly diffident Matthew Phillips. Market-trader Maxineís escaping from her partnerís wideboy son Ė and opportunistically selling everyone everything from leotards to straw hats - but she truly comes alive when she Ďsteps outí in Norma Atallahís joyful performance.
Nicky Callaghanís sympathetic Lynne can do the steps but not the charisma and Yvonne Edgellís loveable Dorothy canít do either. For Yvonne Newmanís expansive Rose, tap is gospel.
Sara Weymouthís hilarious Home Counties matriarch Vera, armed with rubber gloves and loo brush, cleans the ladiesí but fails to clean up her act as class busybody. But the stand out pupil in more ways than one is Suzie Chardís Sylvia, exuberantly emphasising her ample charms in a succession of outrageous figure-hugging lycra creations and defiantly refusing to clean out her deliciously foul mouth.
Itís a tribute to Patsy Palmerís generosity as a performer, that the show isnít a star turn. She plays lonely Mavis for real and does a great spiky double act with Chrissie Furnessís formidable Mrs Fraser.
It must be hard for trained dancers to don ĎL-platesí but everyone does this so convincingly that thereís a real buzz when they blossom into a slick, glitzy chorus line. Theyíve earned their fictional Ė and real Ė encore!
- Judi Herman (reviewed at Theatre Royal, Windsor)