by Richard Harris
directed & choreographed by Jon Engstrom
Welk Resort Theatre, Escondido
through May 20
Stepping Out by British TV writer Richard Harris is not a musical, although it was turned into one in 2010. It's a play with music and is set in Northern England in 1984, the same time period and place as Billy Elliot. It's the tale of eight women and one man who take a weekly local tap class in their church hall. Workers and mates by day, these folks are generally disillusioned and unhappy, each for a different reason, and without the class, they might just cash it in. What you see on stage, now at the Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido, are the amateur characters as they arrive at class and spill their guts for a brief time about their various issues and how they adapt themselves to each other and to learning how to tap. First efforts are rusty at best, but as the play proceeds, the group get to know and tolerate each other and to tap better, and eventually are given a chance to participate in a local one-night annual entertainment gala. My first misgiving with the play is that you never get to know each person thoroughly or totally understand their motivations, but after careful consideration, what you see is what you get: an entertainment that brings the people together, that brings a much needed joy into their lives ... and to the audience at large. It's real, funny and musically fun - about a mini Chorus Line but with amateur dancers whose stories do not involve the profession - and that by itself is enough to give it universal appeal.
Under director Jon Engstrom's loving hand, the cast are all top notch and bring the people to life with the utmost skill. Brenna Fleeman as Mavis makes the ideal teacher, keeping her professional dreams and personal relationships under wraps. Deidra Mohr is Andy (Ann), a delicate, shy soul who has the hots for Geoffrey, who lost his wife to cancer and played by Steve Owsley. Andy hides a deep, dark secret from the others. Comedic roles are loud-mouthed, uncouth Sylvia played deliciously by Megan Carmitchel; Vera, a middle-aged, twice married snob who likes to lord it over everyone else, richly essayed by Tracy Reynolds; and GlendA Frazer, the quiet, stubborn pianist played with panache by Susan Boland. Rounding out the perky ensemble are Lauren King as quiet nurse Lynne, Crystal Burden as insecure Rose, Jenny Powell as questionably demure Dorothy and April Henry as talkative Maxine. Everyone can tap, as displayed in the final chorus numbers, with Fleeman and Owsley exceptional dancers. Gordon Richins has designed a wonderfully believable nondescript church hall. Much praise to Engstrom who allows his actors to open up and adapt slowly and to improve their tapping little by little. Scene by scene you can see how much more skillful they become.
is overall a wonderfully enjoyable evening. Filmed as a 1991 vehicle for Liza Minnelli
, it works much better on stage both for its live tapping and up close realistic comedic style. Pay a visit to the Welk Resort! You'll be glad you did.