Review by David Munro
IN 1934 Rodgers and Hart, while in Hollywood writing the score
for Mississippi, a film to star W.C. Fields and Lanny Ross
(replaced by Bing Crosby), read in the trade papers that RKO,
having just completed The Gay Divorcee, were looking for
another vehicle for its stars, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
It occurred to R. and H. that, although Astaire was famous as
a tap and ballroom dancer, he might be receptive to an idea which
enabled him to extend his talents and so came up with a plot about
a song and dance man who composes and performs a modern ballet
with a classical ballet troupe in the course of which Fred would
become involved with a ballerina before returning to the girl
he really loved.
They called it On Your Toes and wrote a two-page scenario,
which they showed, to Astaire who was initially receptive but
ultimately turned it down, as the role did not allow him to wear
his trademark top hat white tie and tails.
The fact that no bones were broken over this episode is evidenced
by the tribute to Astaire in the title number of the subsequent
show (The dancing crowds - look up to some rare male - like that
On returning to New York, they started to develop the plot with
Ray Bolger in mind, and when it was half written, Lee Shubert,
an American producer, took an option on it but never exercised
Rodgers and Hart, in the meanwhile, became involved with another
show, Jumbo, and after its success, and the lapse of Schubert's
option, On Your Toes was resuscitated and, with a rewritten
book by George Abbott and directed by him, it opened in New York
in April 1936, where it ran for 315 performances.
It was subsequently (1939) made into a film with Eddie Albert,
shorn of most of the score, and revived unsuccessfully in New
York in 1954.
The first English production, in 1937, was a failure, despite
excellent reviews, and it was not until the acclaimed 1983 New
York revival came to London, in 1984, that it achieved the success
in Britain it deserved.
The current revival at the Festival Hall is the first
English production since 1984.
It comes to London, via Leicester, under the direction of Paul
Kerryson, and choreographed by Adam Cooper, who also plays the
lead role of 'Junior' Dolan.
Adam Cooper is first and foremost a classical dancer, but this
essay into the realms of musical comedy shows that classical training
is no hindrance to modern dance and tap.
He sings and acts as well as most jeune premieres to be seen
today and, apart from the crucial Slaughter on Tenth Avenue
ballet, his choreography is faultless and, at times, brilliant.
Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, though, somehow lacks any sparkle,
the reason for which seems to emanate from the two lead dancers,
Cooper and Sarah Wildor, whom, despite, or perhaps because of
the fact they are married, fail to establish the rapport the ballet
This is a pity for the rest of the show is brilliant and Sarah
Wildor is amusing and effective as the temperamental ballerina
Vera Baronova Junior falls for and their scenes together show
none of the lack of rapport which mars the final ballet.
As Frankie, the girl in love with Junior, Anna-Jane Casey sings
well and manages to hold her own in the dance duets with Cooper,
which is no mean feat.
Kathryn Evans and Russell Dixon, as Peggy Porterfield, the backer,
and Sergei Alexandrovich, the impresario of the classical ballet
company, provide comedy relief although at the performance I attended
their duet - Too Good For The Average Man - had been cut.
I suspect because it was too good for the audience, the majority
of whom appeared old enough to have seen the original production.
The male lead of the ballet company was played and danced by
Irek Mukhamedov, with Slavic verve and villainy.
The chorus singing and dancing proved that at last the standard
of the British musical is as high as that of the American.
The title number, which is a balletic duel between classical
and modern dancing, was one of the best sequences I have ever
seen, both for its precision and style. Some credit must go, of
course, to Cooper, wearing his choreographic hat, but the excellence
of the number was ultimately due to the talented dancers he employed.
The direction, too, was fluid and balletic, from the opening
procession of characters during the overture, to the final ballet,
as one has come to expect from Paul Kerryson.
The use of large moving screens enabled the scenes to meld together
seamlessly. He was ably abetted by his designer, Paul Farnsworth,
who dressed the large stage with the minimum of furniture and
props, yet, at the same time, disguising the vastness of the Festival
The Orchestra overcame any acoustical problems, under the direction
of Julian Kelly, and played with gusto giving the score sparkle
Save for the final ballet (which was only disappointing in that
what had preceded
it was so good and professional) this production was as near perfect
as one could have wished.
It certainly did not show its age and seemed as fresh, and new
minted, as it must have done in 1936.
London should be grateful to Raymond Gubbay for giving it the
chance to enjoy it and I only wish that it's run was longer so
that one could revisit it in the future.
Certainly, I would advise anyone who enjoys good theatre and
musicals to go before September 6, when it must perforce close.
So, get on your toes and run to the South Bank before it is too
On Your Toes a musical comedy with book by Richard Rodgers,
Lorenz Hart and George Abbott; music by Mr Rodgers and lyrics
by Mr Hart. Directed by Paul Kerryson, Designed by Paul Farnsworth,
Costumes by Paul Farnsworth, Choreography by Adam Cooper, Lighting
by Chris Ellis, Sound by Simon Baker and Terry Jardine, Conducted
by Julian Kelly. WITH: Adam Cooper, Sarah Wildor, Irek Mukhamedov,
Greg Pichery, Gabrielle Noble, Mathew Malthouse, Simon Coulthard,
Anna-Jane Casey, Juliet Gough, Kathryn Evans, Russell Dixon, Ewan
Wardrop, Lucie Banfield, Richard Curto, Alistair David, Mike Denman,
Kathryn Dunn, Natalie Edwards, Ben Garner, Julia Hinchcliffe,
Benny Maslov, Lisa O'Hare, Oriada, Pippa Raine. Produced by Raymond
Gubbay and the South Bank Centre in association with the Leicester
Haymarket Theatre at the Royal Festival Hall, South Bank. Tickets
020 7960 4242.