A royal revival in leaps and bounds
Terpsichore takes on Tin Pan Alley in “On Your Toes,” which opens the 11th season of Reprise! at Freud Playhouse, and it’s a felicitous pas de deux. This 1936 landmark from Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart may betray its age, but with songs like “There’s a Small Hotel,” “It’s Got to Be Love” and the title tune, why dwell on period creaks?
Better to note how superbly musical director Gerald Sternbach and his ace orchestra handle Hans Spialek’s original orchestrations or how deftly director Dan Mojica places the dated narrative in context. And just try to ignore the way designers Shon LeBlanc (costumes) and Brett Banakis (sets and lighting) make every era detail count or the expertise with which choreographer Lee Martino, atop her game, runs a fabulous corps across the gamut of dance techniques.
It’s here that “On Your Toes,” which made Ray Bolger a star and brought George Balanchine to Broadway, soars. If the Act 1 “Scheherazade” pastiche, “La Princesse Zenobia,” seems quaint, it still gets its laughs. The title number, with triple-time steps and pirouettes facing off into one big, swinging allegro, is an airborne showstopper. And “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,” the climactic jazz ballet upon which the plot hinges, remains a self-contained marvel.
That plot -- vaudevillian-turned-WPA music teacher becomes entangled with a Russian ballet troupe and its prima ballerina -- is thinner than a Balanchine soloist. But the musical assets outweigh Rodgers, Hart and George Abbott’s antique libretto, and the fleet-footed cast seals the deal.
Jeffrey Denman is wonderful as Junior, the professor with a hoofer’s soul. He has real chemistry with Beth Malone, whose piquant ingénue stills the house at “Glad to Be Unhappy,” and the delectable Yvette Tucker, whose tempestuous ballerina exhibits high comic élan and an elegantly liquid line.
Jonathan Sharp devours posturing danseur Konstantine, demonstrating grand elevation in “Zenobia,” while boyish Brett Ryback pounds a mean keyboard as “Slaughter’s” composer. Dan Butler’s impresario is atypical casting, but he certainly connects with Stefanie Powers’ delightfully full-voiced patron, the picture of soignée underplaying. When they tuck into the interpolated “You Took Advantage of Me” (arranged by Sternbach, orchestrated by Darryl Archibald), the audience dissolves.
As they do for John Vaughan and Diane Vincent as Junior’s buck-and-wing-happy parents, or Vincent’s shoe-toting Russian maid, or Quintan Craig as young Junior, or John Todd as the Big Boss in “Slaughter,” and on through the roster.
Is “On Your Toes” perfect? Nyet. Is it royally entertaining? Da.
‘On Your Toes’
Where: Freud Playhouse, UCLA, 405 Hilgard Ave., Westwood
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays
Ends: Aug. 26
Price: $70 to $75
Contact: (310) 825-2101
Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes