The scene is a church hall in Hoboken, New Jersey, where a former Broadway dancer is instructing a modestly talented class in the art of tap dancing. Each of the class members came for a different reason, most of which we learn during the course of the evening as we watch them magically become almost good--and we are pulling for them every minute.
Hudson Theatre Ensemble's production of Stepping Out by Richard Harris warms the heart and sets toes to tapping as it takes the audience through a labyrinth of frustrated hearts and semi-broken lives, all looking for an escape through tap dancing. As is to be expected from this excellent troupe, under the direction of Laurie Brongo, the play is fun and crisply performed.
Cristina Marie plays Mavis, the catalyst as dance teacher, who is sympathetic and wise even though she is going through a crisis of her own in her real life. Marie is a dynamite actress and dancer, coaching the clumsy and talented alike. Somehow we know all along she's going to get the best out of all of them. The script is predictable although it contains many little side trips and not a few unsolved mysteries and unresolved conflicts. But never mind about that. Life is better if you dance, isn't it?
The cast is interesting and each plays his and her own story at a professional level while admitting that if life wasn't so bad outside they wouldn't be here trying to tap dance. Even the pianist is frustrated about something, although it's less clear what. Dinah Gravel plays her quite seriously, with a bit of a sarcastic edge. I would have liked to have seen her really playing the piano, but I guess that's too much to ask. She had the role nailed, even with piped in music.
Florence Pape is always a joy to watch onstage, and the audience loved her as Vera, the bossy control freak to whom tap dancing is an escapist pastime. Other characters have more serious problems, like Emma Peele whose husband beats her and who gets a powerful dramatic scene that brought the role into sharp focus. Gregory Nye played the only male in the class with a studied unease that made his inept dancing appear to be good acting. In some cases I couldn't tell--and in this show it didn't matter.
The house was packed on opening night, and the air conditioning was faulty, which was a bother. Pacing could have been picked up in the first act, but that will all be worked out by the next performance, I'm sure. Stepping Out will run Saturday at 8 P.M., Sunday at 3 P.M., and next weekend Friday and Saturday evenings and a final matinee Sunday, April 22 at 3. Hudson Theatre Ensemble perfoms at the Hudson School, 601 Park Avenue. Go--and enjoy the show!