Apr 25, 2016

[Theater] Stepping Out: The Musical (Repertory Philippines)

Over the years, we've made it a habit to support the regular season of Repertory Philippines. Whether it involves just booking the first three plays individually or committing to a full season pass including the musicals, the goal is to see what they have to offer for the year and celebrate the diversity of theater. Repertory is a theater company with a very rich history and it always saddens me when we find their shows not quite filled to the brim in terms of sold tickets. They remain one of the theater options in the city and one of the steady avenues for watching straight plays and not just musicals.

However in recent years we've seen them stage a musical as part of their regular 3-production season as a way to balance things out a little more. At first I didn't think much of Stepping Out: The Musical when I secured the tickets because the name of the show was unfamiliar to me and I generally avoid looking up the productions online in order to avoid spoilers.

So it was funny that once we arrived at the venue and saw the show collateral, I had to admit it all seemed vaguely familiar. But of course this only make more sense to me during the show itself.

Synopsis: Stepping Out: The Musical is a stage musical with book by Richard Harris and lyrics by Mary Stewart-David. It was originally based on the play of the same name by Richard Harris as well. This Repertory Philippines staging of the production was directed by Jaime Del Mundo and was staged at the Greenbelt OnStage Theater from April 1-24, 2016.

The story centers around a tap dancing class that has 8 students - 7 women and 1 man. They're taught by Mavis (Angela Padilla), a former chorus girl who hasn't danced professionally in some time but remains committed to her craft. Now she teaches these classes one night a week with the help of Mrs. Fraser (Sheila Francisco) as the piano player. Things get shaken up a bit once Mavis is asked to have her class prepare a number for a local charity event. As the group rehearses their routine in the hopes of being even halfway show-worthy, we also find out about their individual stories and the interconnections between them.

Now it was funny to me to see the play since I had apparently caught the 1991 movie adaptation on HBO a number of times on repeat. But I never caught the movie from the beginning so the title didn't quite resonate with me and thus it remained unfamiliar. Of course that movie ended being a little too centered on Liza Minelli, but hey it worked for the time. This local staging was a pretty fun event as well, especially since I actually once took up tap lessons in school. So the whole practice experience and the dictation of which steps were involved in the routine certainly brought back fun (and stressful) memories of trying to get my fight in the right position for the routine.

Casting was pretty interesting and as much as Angela Padilla was a pretty decent Mavis, she was easily outshined by the amazing stage presence of Bituin Escalante, who played Rose in the play. She didn't have quite as many singing numbers as we all probably wished, but she did make the most of the ones she had. I wasn't too much of a fan of the accent she was trying to maintain in the production,but I suppose it served its purpose.

As an ensemble, I think we had a pretty fun group who worked well together and for the most part supported one another on stage. In this regard no one particularly stood out apart from Bituin in those early numbers, which was a good and a bad thing. Musical numbers felt competent and the speaking bits were mostly great. The play did end up feeling a bit more serious than it probably should have since some light, comical lines were delivered in a rather dry manner or without the sort of comedic timing needed to really drive it home as a joke.

The musical interludes, particularly the ones dedicated to each of the characters personal stories, didn't feel quite cohesive with the rest of the play, and I feel that had more to do with the source material than the how it was all directed. True, maybe a different director's vision might have figured out a way to tighten things up, but one can only speculate about that sort of thing and never reach an accurate conclusion.

The ending felt a little abrupt and various story elements didn't feel all that resolved. We just went straight to the big dance routine, which was again okay but nothing particularly amazing. It was noticeable that the character of Mavis did not dance in the final routine, which felt a little weird since she was supposed to be the teacher leading this band of misfits. 

So Stepping Out: The Musical came out as feeling just okay and not quite overwhelming. Maybe my impression of the show was somewhat influenced by the sadly inefficient air conditioning at the OnStage Theater in recent years but then I'd like to think it was really more the struggle with the production itself and how it didn't feel like they had really let go and had fun with the show. Thus the production only gets 3.5 tap dancing steps out of a possible 5.

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