REVIEW: Polished performances in delightful show from Forest Amateur Musical Entertainers

Stepping Out
Stepping Out

Stepping Out, Forest Amateur Musical Entertainers, The Capitol, Horsham, April 28-30

FAME’s version of Richard Harris’ musical adaptation of his 1984 stageplay was an inspirational hit.

Harris wrote the original Stepping Out after barging in on a tap class in a community centre, while trying to find his wife. 

He remarked: “They all seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves and I thought if I could capture that, the pleasure they are clearly getting out of the class, I might be a winner.”

The play became a West End and Broadway hit, running for three years and winning the Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy in 1984. Harris later adapted his stageplay into a musical with lyrics by Mary Stewart David and music by Denis King. Swapping the original gritty North London suburb for Buffalo, New York, the musical became the vehicle for Liza Minelli to revitalise her career in 1991.

FAME’s version returns the action to its original location, complete with class warfare, West Indians and 1980s technology, which reminds me – the props and costumes in this production were verging on genius.

It was no surprise to see in the programme that Wendy Galleymore was at the bottom of it. Wendy and her daughter Su between them took on the production, direction and choreography. Their interpretation allowed the original inspiration of the piece to shine on its own merits.

The piece was a fitting choice for the company, and is indicative of Galleymore’s encyclopedic knowledge of musical theatre. It’s certainly self-referential, given the story is about an amateur dance troupe, and the self deprecation is beguiling; but watching the show on Friday, it became apparent that the standards set by the mother and daughter tour de force were anything but amateur. Su herself gave a convincing and polished performance as the troupe’s director.

The play ends on a poignant note with a devastating climax in the second act. This was not an easy piece of stagecraft to pull off, but Su, Julie Bass, who played Vera, and Amy Wells as Andy did a magnificent job. The role of Vera requires a tricky balance – we must howl at her snobbish insensitivity, but feel for her plight at the close – and the manoeuvre was not even noticeable. It was a great shame that Geoffrey’s character, poignantly played by David Aitchison, was left with an ambiguous ending with Andy. It is testament to the skill of both actors that the audience were desperate for them to end up together.

The play is full of laughs. As well as Vera’s tactlessness, there are some great one-liners, delivered by Gemma Thompson (Maxine) and Karen Buck (Sylvia), who make the most of their larger-than-life personas. Mrs Fraser, the acerbic répétiteur, was played to hilarious perfection by Margaret Bysh, and Chris Buck (Dorothy) showed spot-on timing, both in her catchphrase delivery and Corporal-Jones-esque dancing.

The tension in the piece was screwed tighter and tighter as we witnessed the development of the dance routine the troupe was to perform at the end of the show. Left and right feet were confused, canes were dropped and tempers were lost. Throughout Mary Rue, who played Rose, jollied us along in such a rollicking manner that we were convinced she must have been type-cast; Marte Blyseth Marsden (as Lynne) was a most able foil to this rambunctious character, reflecting the seriousness that survives in the musical from the play.

Overall the play was highly entertaining, reflecting the theatre group’s yearly feat of taking their audience on an emotional ride through well-rehearsed song, tap-dance and acting.

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