'On Your Toes'

Music, Lyrics, and Book: Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, and George Abbott; Choreography:  Adam Cooper

by Emma Pegler

August 9, 2003 -- Royal Festival Hall, London

A triumph and a thoroughly good night out! It is truly a pleasure to see such accomplished ballet dancers acting and singing so well. Adam Cooper is a feast for the eyes. He is tall, slim and beautifully proportioned – no overdeveloped muscles – and looks handsome in an all-American way as the bespectacled Professor Dolan, in his baggy but well-cut 1930s trousers and billowing white shirt. When he reluctantly takes off his glasses and tucks them in his top pocket and starts tap-dancing, we are as enthralled as the music class who didn’t know that he was formerly a famous vaudeville dancer. It gets better.

When he finds himself having to stand in for one of the missing slaves in the premiere of the Russian ballet, ‘Princess Zenobia,’ his comic timing in missing the steps is perfect. When he finally gets to premiere ‘Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,’ with his black trousers (braces off his shoulders and hanging from his waist) and black vest dripping with sweat (it was nearly 100 degrees outside and the air conditioning in the Royal Festival Hall was not coping) he delivers the performance of Phil Dolan’s life. Cooper is a brilliant dancer and has delivered many, many superb performances. I am not sure that there has ever been such a great Phil Dolan. I am only guessing but I cannot believe that any man could match Cooper in the final scene.

Professor Dolan has been pushed into a respectable life as a music teacher by his parents. It is only when the Russian ballet comes to New York that he dances again. The Russian troupe is modelled on the Ballets Russes and impresario Sergei Alexandrovitch is an undisguised Diaghilev – the distinctive white streak of hair against a mass of dark hair, and he bows to a picture of the former Tsar. Sarah Wildor, Cooper’s wife, is the star ballerina, Vera Baranova. She is suitably over-the-top Russian – all passion and fire, flinging ballet shoes across her hotel room and shrieking in arch tones at her itinerant lover and ballet partner, Konstantine Morrosine.

Now, if you were given the task of casting a ballet dancer for Morrosine’s role, who would you choose? Of course – Irek Mukhamedov. He ‘is’ Morrosine – a great showy dancer (Mukhamedov was jumping very well on Saturday night) with a passionate Russian nature and heavy Russian accent. I don’t suppose he needed to rehearse very much. Morrosine cheats on Baronova and she is bent on revenge. So she falls for Professor Dolan. Mind you, she does like the way Dolan dances, and he is the only one who can partner her properly in the jazz ballet ‘Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.’ This sends Morrosine into a jealous rage (even though he has frequently been caught in embraces with his Russian hands on American ladies’ backsides) and he plots to have Dolan killed on stage.

Wildor matches his accent well. I have known her for many years as a good, and by nature, mute, ballet dancer. She is also, it appears, a great comedy actress and singer. Good luck to her. Since leaving the Royal Ballet she has experimented with other ballet companies and with musicals, and she is clearly enjoying the diversity of her new life. And Cooper, Wildor and Mukhamedov are all having a great time in “On Your Toes.” They are clearly great friends and good foils for each other. Everything is more rewarding when you are amongst friends! And their enjoyment is infectious. The audience relishes in their performances.

There is plenty of dancing in this production and it clearly has Balanchine’s signature on it - Balanchine originally choreographed ‘Princess Zenobia’ and ‘Slaughter on Tenth Avenue’ – although Cooper has clearly rechoreographed ‘Slaughter.’ Balanchine married two Vera Baronovas – Tamara Geva who played Baronova in the Broadway version and later Vera Zorina from the London version. There is a wonderful photograph in the programme of Balanchine coaching Jacques d’Amboise and another woman he tried to marry, Suzanne Farrell, in ‘Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.’ Cooper sings but Wildor and Mukhamedov only dance. All three act well and the supporting cast is full of good singers and well-trained dancers. Anna-Jane Casey as Frankie, Dolan’s girlfriend, and Kathyn Evans as Peggy Porterfield, a rich entrepreneur and importer of the Russian ballet, have great stage voices and stage presence.

‘Slaughter on Tenth Avenue’ is a clever finale. The dancing is great jazz ballet and Wildor’s Striptease Girl is a great cameo for a reluctant club dancer, controlled by a sinister pimp, who longs to have a real love affair with Cooper, the Hoofer. There is comedy in the form of an elegant transvestite trying to let Cooper know that Mukhamedov has planted an assassin in the audience. The assassin in the audience is Mukhamedov himself. He slips in and takes his seat with his pistol on his lap. (The chap next to me in the audience remarked, “they let him in late,” as Mukhamedov takes his seat in row L. Groan!) The NYC police officers get to Morrisone before he gets to Dolan.

All’s well that ends well. Frankie and Dolan are reunited and Miss Baronova embraces her lovable rogue, Morrisone. Lots of applause. A happy audience. My only criticism is that Rodgers and Hart’s music and songs are not particularly memorable, which is unusual for a musical of this calibre. I wasn’t able to whistle the tunes on the way to Pizza Express.

Edited by Jeff

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