That roar of applause heard from UCLA's Freud Playhouse is a two-fold result of the top-notch production of On Your Toes as part of Reprise! Broadway's Best as well as a note of approval for the smash up job from the company's newest artistic director, actor Jason Alexander. Marking his first foray with Reprise!, On Your Toes certainly proves Alexander is the right man for the job, and it can only be hoped that the future holds further success for the "Seinfeld" alum in the Los Angeles theatre world.
Reprise! has a predilection for a classic Broadway style, and with On Your Toes, just such a nostalgic piece of art is once again delightfully achieved. With the on stage orchestra, led by the always wonderful music director Gerald Sternbach, it is easy to drift off to the Golden Age of Broadway.
This Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart musical is a timeless wonder, first produced in New York in 1936 starring Ray Bolger, and is now on display as the first of four shows with Reprise!, featuring Stefanie Powers and Dan Butler. And although Powers and Butler share the above marquee status, it is another lead, Jeffry Denman, who deserves the most resounding ovation.
On Your Toes, directed by Dan Mojica, follows a former child vaudeville star, Junior Donal (Denman), as he manages to return to the stage after spending a good part of his adult years as a music teacher. In Junior's case, those that teach can also do, as he unexpectedly ends up dancing for the Russian Ballet and becoms part of a dangerous love triangle with the company's leading ballerina, Vera Barnova (Yvette Tucker).
Along the way, Junior's students Frankie (Beth Malone) and Sidney (Brett Ryback) are given a shot to perform for the Ballet's famed director Sergei Alexandrovich (Butler), thanks to their professor's surprise success as a ballet dancer. And the ballet's financial backer, Peggy (Powers) gives Sergi a firm push towards deciding to produce Sidney's first composition, "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue."
Meanwhile, Junior becomes torn between the glamorous prospects of the ballet lifestyle and his newfound sweetheart student, Frankie, who is willing to hang on for true love. Used as a pawn in a game of jealousy between Vera and her Russian lover, Konstantine (Jonathan Sharp), Junior is faced with some sticky situations, but in the end old-fashioned love wins out.
Denman is a fantastic song and dance man, as he taps his way through classic vaudeville numbers and spins on stage in true ballet fashion. His take on Junior is that of being straight out of Mayberry, with a gosh-golly-gee attitude. Last time Los Angeles enjoyed Denman was in Irving Berlin's White Christmas at the Pantages, and he is a dancing treasure who can hopefully find another project to take up in this vast city.
The most surprising standout of On Your Toes is Tucker, who is not only fierce in her dancing as the Russian tart, Vera, but has looks that kill. With a diva ballerina attitude fully realized, Tucker gets many laughs with her over the top Russian accent and shoe-obsessed tantrums. Sharp's fellow Russian flare and diva ways accents the comical sensibilities of the production.
As for the star performers, Powers and Butler are enjoyable in their respective roles, with the later edging out the "Hart to Hart" veteran. Butler, who is perhaps best known from his role in "Fraiser," gives a bulldog performance as the Russian ballet's director, giving the role a sentimental heart in the second act. And Powers pulls off the role of the show's matriarch, bringing a classic charm to On Your Toes. The book, however, does not lend Power's role as much to work with as her counterparts, but the loved performer is able to deliver what is required with much skill.
Choreographer Lee Martino smoothly blends multiple dance styles, as On Your Toes is a fanciful combination of tap and ballet, providing a rousing good time. And with the original production being the first time a musical comedy incorporated dance as a direct component of its plot, this latest incarnation does its creators proud.
Thanks, in part, to such classic numbers as "Glad to be Unhappy," "It's Got to be Love" and "On Your Toes," this backstage musical has more panache than another similar offering currently making its way on Broadway, Curtains. On Your Toes will have audiences tapping their feet for its short run at Reprise!
On Your Toes runs through August 26 at UCLA's Freud Playhouse, located in Macgowan Hall. Tickets can be purchased by calling the UCLA Central Ticket Office at 310-825-2101. For $10 off any seat, mention code SHOW.