Well known for its excellent, ambitious productions of musicals, the Union Theatre’s latest offering is Kander and Ebb’s 1997 work Steel Pier. Directed by Paul Taylor-Mills, it’s a strange offering, superbly presented. Centring on a dance marathon in the 1930s, a group of semi-professional performers reveal their bitchy rivalry and needy posturing. The competition is a seedy affair, fixed, of course, that becomes increasingly humiliating and ends in medication for most participants. Our heroine Rita can only escape from it with the help of a very special, if unsuccessful, daredevil pilot.
Steel Pier is set on the fringes of celebrity but the cast at the Union Theatre is anything but mediocre. In the lead roles Sarah Galbraith and Jay Rincon, both visiting from the States, give fine performances. Singing unmiked, a real treat that makes the show worth seeing alone, they get the most out of songs that are a long way from Kander and Ebb’s finest. The excellent Aimie Atkinson has the show’s best number, ‘Everybody’s Girl’, and the best lines, managing to inject some much-needed humour. The large, hardworking cast is impressively marshalled by Taylor-Mills, and special note goes to Samuel Parker making a high-energy professional debut and Lisa-Anne Wood, who gives a spirited performance as the dancer most desperate to become a star.
Taylor-Mills combines the singing and dancing marvellously, making the most of Richard Jones’ excellent choreography. The show has such dazzle is almost manages to convince you this is a major work but, useful setting aside, the book by David Thompson, is lacking. The stakes played for – a moment in the spotlight or a chance of sponsorship – just aren’t high enough, and a supernatural twist, exploited well by Jones and musical director Angharad Sanders, adds little. Despite the best efforts of all involved, Steel Pier is something of a curio – essential for fans of musical theatre – but not stainless enough to appeal to everyone.
Until 24 November 2012
Photo by Claire Bilyard
Written 7 November 2012 for The London Magazine