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All American fun

GT reviews the latest Kander and Ebb revival, Steel Pier


Steel Pier first played on Broadway some 15 years ago, its original run lasting just 76 shows. Surprising in many respects, as it's the work of much celebrated duo Kander and Ebb - the writers behind mega-hits like Chicago and Cabaret. Both shows which transferred to great box office success in the West End. But then I guess we all have bad weeks.

Set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, Steel Pier explores the rash world of dance marathons, where couples are ployed into dancing for weeks on end in an attempt to win lucrative prize money. Whilst dance marathons are no longer popular, the sense of unrelenting will to fulfil the American dream remains as true and relevant now as in the 1930s, both eras of economic woe.

There's also the ongoing tribulation of a love triangle between marathon host Mick Hamilton (Ian Knauer), his falling celebrity wife, Rita Racine (Sarah Galbraith), and her daredevil toy boy, Bill Kelly (Jay Rincon). If you're a fan of meaty, emotionally-charged dilemmas of the heart, then this isn't the musical for you. Galbraith and Rincon lack chemistry on stage, which increasingly becomes problematic as their romance climaxes. A problem, at least, when the inability to hear the actors under misjudged sound levels isn't more of an issue.

This isn't to say Steel Pier lacks charm. Its well choreographed lyndy hops, talented live band and intimate setting is endearing and relaxing. Not to mention some stand-out performances from Rob Lines, who plays hapless dancer, Happy, and most notably of all Aime Atkinson, who steals the show with her charismatic portrayal of highly strung, loose-calved dancer Shelby Stevens. Oh, and there's a scene consisting entirely of men in tight boxers. Which is enough to save any performance.

Words: Benjamin Butterworth
Photo: Claire Bilyard

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