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“Ballroom” – Waterloo East Theatre

May 24, 2017

(seen at the afternoon performance on 21st May 2017)

I was ecstatic to learn that I would, after many years, have a chance to see one of my favourite “Broadway failures” (116 performances in 1979) on stage. Owning both the original cast album and original source film “Queen of the Stardust Ballroom,” to say I was anticipating this one was an understatement. I’m delighted to say, Gerald Armin and his team didn’t disappoint.

It’s a simple story. Bea Asher (Jessica Martin) is a widow selling the accumulation of a lifetime in her junk store. Friend Angie (Natalie Moore-Williams) suggests she meet “The Very Nice Crowd” at the Stardust Ballroom. There she finds friendship and more, as sister-in-law Helen (Olivia Maffett) looks on disapprovingly.

A slim book holds enough surprises to have the person next to me (hello, Karen) gasp “I didn’t see that coming”) at one point, and Armin, Nancy Kettle and Roman Berry keep the show whirling with an energetic cast of senior actors directed and choreographed to give us full benefit of their experience and talent.

There’s beautiful songs too. One of the two younger performers, Danielle Morris as Ballroom Singer Marlene delivers “Dreams” to a level that deserves a single release, and is a young performer to watch for sure. Doubling as Bea’s daughter Diane and paired with Ballroom Singer counterpart Nathan (Adam Anderson) – himself doubling as Bea’s son David – the duo too are quite a team – “One By One” another particularly successful song delivery.

The show belongs, though, to Ms Martin. Broadway classic “Fifty Percent” is given the full hundred percent treatment, and a perfectly judged “Monroe” regeneration is entrancing. Better yet, Ms Martin finds the transition from shell-shocked widow to fiercely independent lady over just two short hours and fills the theatre with a compelling determined gentleness.

It is small wonder postman Alfred Rossi (Cory Peterson) falls for her – his Italian American charm genuine. In counterpoint, Oliva Maffett’s judgemental Helen could have been over-done, but the actor finds a concern that balances to perfection the domineering aspect.

Supporting roles are all beautifully done by the ensemble. Of particular note for me were Dudley Rogers as Harry, Gerry Tebbutt’s obsessive Scooter and Colette Kelly as Shirley, to mention just three cameos that add to the pleasure of the show.

For those who have seen the original film, there are good points in that a lot of the “family” stuff has been stripped away, speeding up the action and helping focus on the ballroom itself – nicely represented here, incidentally, by Paul O’Shaughnessy’s simple parquet floor set.

Alas, there are also a few disappointments. I already knew that the best numbers in the film had gone, and yearned for them to return. Also, the ending is very different on stage, presumably because Broadway sends crowds out upbeat (the original film ending is below, for those who want to know).

Luckily, here, it’s satisfyingly enough staged not to matter – but I do wonder if one day a “revisical” might be in order, as this production proves the show to work far better than anyone could imagine.

If it were to happen, this is the cast to work with. For me and the audience last Sunday, it was an enchanting way to pass a couple of hours, and I strongly urge anyone who cares about people, particularly the generation that brought them into the world and loves them, not to miss the chance to see this. I wish you all a waltz.

Four stars.

 

ORIGINAL ENDING. SPOILER WARNING. In both this show and the original film, Bea is crowned “Queen of the Stardust Ballroom,” the most popular lady there, who will act as Social Hostess for the next year. On stage, the story ends with her and Alfred taking to the stage to receive the tiara.

In the original film, though, they go back to her home, and they kiss “goodnight” and will meet in the morning. Next morning, Alfred brings breakfast to her house. Bea does not answer the door so he goes inside. Bea is there, in bed… having passed peacefully away in the night.

Now, wouldn’t that have made a great ending to a musical?!

 

 

 

 

No blog next week, but back on the 7th June, I hope.

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