Manatee Players stage 'Stepping Out'

The popular British play focuses on group of aspiring tap dancers

mclear@bradenton.comJanuary 16, 2014 

From left, Kyle Ann Lacertosa, Camille Norman, Melissa Porter, Valerie Westfall, Caroline Cox, Chrystal Lee, Daniel Perrone, Meg Newsome, Kimberly Kalley and Linda Roeming-Engle star in the Manatee Players' production of "Stepping Out." PHOTO PROVIDED

PICASA

You might be a fan of the popular stage show "Stepping Out," but you may never have seen the original version.

"This is an unusual show in that its been a play, a musical and a movie," said Kelly Burnette. "We're doing the play."

Burnette is the director and choreographer of the Manatee Players production of "Stepping out," which opens Friday.

"It's a unique play," she said. "How many plays do you know that would require a choreographer?"

The straight-play version "Stepping Out" debuted on London's West End in 1981 and later came across the ocean to Broadway.

Richard Harris -- not the actor, but a well-known British writer who works mostly in television -- wrote "Stepping Out" after visiting a tap dancing class in the basement of a church. The musical version and the film came years later. (There is some music in the play, but it's just the piano accompaniment for the dancers.)

There's not much of a plot, Burnette said. It's more about its characters, a group of people of various ages and various backgrounds who, for different reasons, end up taking a tap class.

The teacher is a former theater pro, who never had a great amount of success as a performer.

The show focus on the private and interpersonal dramas in the lives of the teacher and her students as they work toward a recital at a charity event.

The idea is this disparate group of people who come together and work toward a common goal," Burnette said. "That's what it's really about. They come to this dance class for all different reasons, but they really support each other and become fast friends."

The 1991 film version was only a mild success, despite some massive star power. Liza Minnelli played the teacher, her assistant was Shelley Winters, and the students included Andrea Martin, Julie Walters, Bill Irwin, Jane Krakowski and Nora Dunn.

The plot was changed somewhat. The backstory was that Minnelli's character had been a Broadway success, unlike the corresponding character in the play. Burnette surmises that the change came about because audiences wouldn't buy Minnelli as a show biz flop.

The actors in the movie version were, of course, seasoned pros, and many of them had experience dancing on a professional stage. They had to act like students learning to tap.

In the Manatee Players version, Burnette said, the cast is made up of talented amateurs, most of whom are inexperienced as dancers.

"These are not typical chorus girls," he said. "Some of them of them have never done tap before at all, and had to learn during rehearsals. So the play actually mirrors their own journey."

Details: Jan. 16-Feb. 2, Brandon Kiwanis Studio Theatre at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. W., Bradenton. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $26-$36. Information: 941-748-5875, www.manateeplayers.com.

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