Review: ‘Stepping Out’ at Diamond Head Theatre

Feb. 6, 2014 | 0 Comments

REVIEW BY CAROL EGAN / Special to the Star-Advertiser

If you’re going to Diamond Head Theatre’s “Stepping Out” expecting to see an elaborate musical, you will be disappointed. The current production, running through Feb. 16, is less a musical than a play with rudimentary choreography.

Following in the steps of British gems such as “The Full Monty” and “Billy Elliot,” it concerns a motley group of working-class folks eager to escape their mundane lives. In this case they seek friendship in an elementary tap class offered in the local church hall.

0206 stepping out

‘STEPPING OUT’

Presented by Diamond Head Theatre

» Where: Diamond Head Theatre, 520 Makapuu Ave.
» When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; also 3 p.m. Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 16
» Cost: $15-$35
» Info: (808) 733-0274, diamondheadtheatre.com

The title is not to be confused with the classic Fred Astaire number, “Stepping Out with My Baby,” by Irving Berlin, from the 1948 film “Easter Parade,” although the play pays homage to the great American composer. DHT’s “Stepping Out” is based on a 1991 film starring Liza Minnelli, as dance teacher Mavis, that was based on a play first produced in London in 1984.

Rather than using the film version in which the characters are American, this production follows the original British version, complete with strained and inconsistent British accents.

Led by the vivacious and almost always upbeat Mavis (Camille Michel), and with the sole accompaniment of the caustic pianist Mrs. Fraser (Judy Yoshi­oka), the class consists of seven women of various shapes and sizes and one man (Johnathan Reed) of size.

It is clear early on, however, that the show isn’t about learning to dance as much as it is about the compassion and empathy the characters find through the effort. One by one we learn their back stories: the spousal abuse suffered by one, the loneliness of the widower, the difficulties of raising a spoiled stepson. Even the prim Mavis has her tribulations.

One intriguing plot line is the tension between Mrs. Fraser and the others. Sensitive to any suggestions from either teacher or students, the accompanist is more often than not ready to walk out of the hall. She makes it clear at one point that what she does in the dance studio “is only a very small part of a considerable repertoire.”

Though the class at first is simply engaged in learning steps and simple routines, the stakes are raised when the novices are invited to participate in a charity show. Hearing of this, the pretentious Vera (Suzanne Green) further enrages the accompanist by asking if they would be dancing to Mrs. Fraser or “proper music.”

Gradually we learn more of the characters’ histories. Vera tells of her husband’s obsession with her 17-year-old daughter, while flamboyant Maxine (Tracey Villiger) confesses that dance class is the only place where she feels confident. Shy Andy (Claire Fallon) gradually begins to emerge from her shell, while the self-effacing Geoffrey (Reed) is placed front and center and learns to deliver like a pro.

Among the cast only Michel, Green and Villiger appear to have had significant dance training, but since dialogue outweighs choreography, this is not a major issue. Other members of the fine ensemble include Stacey Pulmano, Ann Ogilvie, Tabitha Humphrey and Alison L. B. Maldonado.

Direction is by John Rampage, with costumes by Karen G. Wolfe and set design by Willie Sabel.

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