Kander and Ebb's Steel Pier is less well-known than their other works such as Cabaret and Chicago, and arguably justifiably so. The story is rather thinner and fluffier than these other shows, in spite of an 'other-worldly' element which becomes clear as the tale progresses. The tunes are also less memorable – but all this is not to say that the show, and this staging of it, is devoid of merit.
The tale is set in Atlantic City and revolves around the 1930s practice of 'dance marathons', whereby couples compete for hours, days and indeed weeks on end to win cash prizes. This particular dance marathon, taking place at the Steel Pier, features showgirl Rita Racine (Sarah Galbraith) in what she vows will be her final competition before retiring from this brutal discipline. Galbraith’s vocals are undeniably strong, but her performance (and rather dowdy dress) lacks some of the sparkle necessary to convince us of Rita's starlet status.
On the other hand the vocals of the two male leads - Ian Knauer as manipulative marathon host Mick Hamilton and Jay Rincon as ethereal stunt pilot love-interest Bill Kelly - are no match for the live band, and their words sometimes become inaudible. This could possibly be addressed by some adjustments to the sound balance.
By far the most enjoyable moments in the show come during the group dance set pieces featuring the extremely talented and hard-working ensemble. Richard Jones’ sharp choreography is deftly executed, particularly in numbers such as "Everybody Dance" and the first-act-ending "The Sprints". A twisted music box ballerina style reprise of the title number towards the end of act two provides perhaps the most recognisably ‘Kander and Ebb’ moment of the show.
The real star of this cast is Aimie Atkinson, playing the brusque, brassy dancer Shelby Stevens. Her performance excels both vocally and in terms of depth of character, and her big solo "Everybody’s Girl" proves to be the highlight of the show. Lisa-Anne Wood also puts in a very enjoyable turn as the naïve and desperate-for-fame Precious McGuire.
The show is well staged and looks great, putting the excellent ‘marathon’ dancing firmly at the forefront. It’s just a shame that the central performances, storyline and music don’t quite last the distance.
- Emma Watkins