The Leicester Haymarket Theatre must be a scary place in which to expose talents to a new kind of audience as Adam Cooper is doing this month. The stage is on a level with the front row of the stalls and only about three feet from them, making the audience pretty much visible throughout I should think. The orchestra pit is actually in the stage front with a walkway around it forming the front edge of the stage. I could not see how deep the pit was from my seat but I feared for the dancers' safety in the more energetic numbers and it must have made the choreography an interesting exercise.
On Your Toes is set in the 1920s and 1930s and some of the language is necessarily dated but the whole does not suffer for that. The piece is gentle escapism of the best kind and is very well done. The overture sets the scene with the visiting Russian ballet company limbering up and establishing the relationships between the principals. Irek gets to show his credentials here. The scene changes to a family vaudeville act, The Dolans, during which the junior member misbehaves resulting in being banished from the act to become a music teacher.
Moving on 15 years we are then introduced to Junior Dolan, now Professor Dolan teaching his class. Adam Cooper as a rather nerdy teacher? I wish my music teacher had looked like that. This is where we get to hear the Cooper speaking and singing voice. Adam did not display any of the nerves he claimed when I spoke to him later. He seemed totally at ease and his singing voice came as a very pleasant surprise. It is true and clear and quite strong enough to cope with the duets with the very talented Linzi Hateley, who plays the early love interest. Without giving away the entire story we also get to see Adam going back to his roots with a fast and furious tap number which he obviously enjoyed, as did the audience.
With the ease only possible in musicals Professor Dolan manages to gain access to the Russian Ballet company, headed by a Diaghelev clone, in order to try to persuade them to take up the jazz ballet composed by another of his students. It is here that we are introduced to the femme fatale Vera Baronova in the wonderful shape of Marguerite Porter. Having had a falling out with her fiery Russian lover she decides to seduce the gawky teacher, suggesting he dance with her. Only a skilled pair such as this could carry off Junior's hamfisted efforts at partnering a prima ballerina without serious injury to either party. Good comedic and balletic timing.
I don't want to give the plot away but the hapless Junior now finds himself in love with two women at once and caught up in the sexual politics of the ballet, resulting in an enraged Russian lover with access to hired guns.
The scene when Junior is asked to step in for a member of the corps who has been arrested is hilarious. Adam shows his comic talents as he forgets most of his make-up, muffs the steps, dances with the wrong partner and generally blunders about the stage to the fury of the ballet company who try, unsucessfully to bundle him off. The site of Adam Cooper swinging across the stage upside down on a rope will stay with me for a long time. I laughed until the tears came.
The finale is, of course, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue. Adam has choreographed this with more than a nod to Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake Act III. The man in black is back and instantly recognisable. This is Adam doing what he does best and all nerdyness is banished as he and Marguerite Porter show us what they are made of. At the end Junior gets a note warning him that a gunman is out to get him at the climax of the dance and he frantically keeps the orchestra going until the cops arrive.
There are many highlights and the whole show is gentle escapism of the traditional kind. Special praise must go to Marguerite Porter who was splendid and to Linzi Hateley and Kathryn Evans, two excellent singers. The fact that it is a revival and comes from a different age is reflected in the language occasionally but that is not a criticism. If Daisy can Pull it Off in the West End I see no reason why this should not do the same. There is talk of a run at Sadlers Wells later in the year and I think it deserves a London airing. The audience is necessarily very different to what Adam and Irek are used to and apparently the first night crowd were pretty tough. Not too many of those there last night seemed to be completely in on some of the jokes and situations but they were roaring their approval at the final curtain. Adam came off stage looking exhausted, partly because the air conditioning was faulty and the whole place was roasting. I asked him if he had enjoyed himself as much as he seemed to and he agreed that he had. Sarah was speechless with pride. Was it worth braving the Leicester one-way system and missing the FA Cup Final? Well gosh yes!