The current show at Mansfield Music and Arts Society Black Box Theater is Richard Harris' "Stepping Out". The good-natured, tap-dancing comedy chronicles several months in the life of a beginning dance class and takes place in present day in the USA. Each of the eight students come from a variety of backgrounds, has his or her own reason for joining. For instance, Maxine, a confident fast-talking sales woman ( and former Mouseketeer dancer), is there on therapist's orders, while self-sacrificing Andy participates because it is the only thing she does for herself, effervescent Dorothy works at the unemployment office, Rose is a sassy black gal who's permanent has gone wrong, tough Sylvia constantly wants to go out for a drink after rehearsal, Vera is a cleaning fanatic, Lynne is a nurse and Geoffrey is the only man in the class. . Whatever the cause, they make a point of coming every week to chat, relax and, if they can manage to, learn a couple of dance steps along the way. Led by Mavis, their eternally patient instructor, and accompanied by the acerbic pianist Mrs. Fraser, the students (who range from hopeless to competent) strive to master the basics of dance. But the steps and routines are just the background for the real focus of the play which is the relationships and interactions of these ten very different people. By their final performance, not only have the class members developed some degree of skill, but they have also overcome the inhibitions, awkwardness and personality conflicts that have kept them out of sync. The show is abundant with a character driven plot and is mixed with comic and dramatic moments. Directed by Barbara Pettis , she gives each performer a chance to shine in their respective roles while choreography by Karen Anderson is also excellent. She makes them all dance from their timidness at first to their sparkling final performance which is magical. Scenic design is by Gary Poholek who built a small stage with proscenium, painted hardwood floors and built a spinet piano with a hidden keyboard on it. Costume design is by Ann-Marie Lambert with red and white jackets, maroon vests and old fashioned hats and dresses for the wise-cracking pianist, Mrs Fraser. All these ingredients mix together wonderfully for the shimmering, glorious final tap dancing performance of The Mavis Turner Tappers which leads to a standing ovation at the close of the show.
Barbara makes each character different from the other so you can readily identify who is who. She infuses them all with high energy from start to finish. Karen creates some fantastic dance steps for the cast and they all execute them perfectly. The most outstanding dancer in this show is gorgeous blonde, Stacy Kernweis as Mavis, the dance instructor. She has a solo jazz number in Act 1 scene 4 that stops the show. Her character is very patient with her students except in one scene where they all start to tell her what dance steps they should do and she explodes at them. She thinks she might be pregnant by her less than stellar boyfriend. Doreen Tighe is a hoot as the sarcastic, Mrs. Fraser. She gets many laughs when she plays the tempo of "I Can't Give you Anything but Love, Baby" wrong at rehearsal, and has many funny one liners with one of them being "students come out in summer and drop off in winter. Glenda Fraser also proclaims she is a vegetarian and doesn't drink but appears tipsy in one scene, leading to much laughter. Her funny costumes and hats by Ann-Marie add to the levity.
Since there are ten members of the cast I will do a brief description of their roles. All of them do a wonderful job with their acting and dancing. Alicia Marie Rivera, who I first directed in "Fools" when she was 14 years old, plays Lynne, the geriatric nurse who lost a patient one day and she is the dance captain of the troupe. Judi Cotta as Dorothy is worried about her bicycle being stolen and shines in the scene where she tearfully explains she didn't report Sylvia's husband to the unemployment office. Julie Cline is Maxine who is married for the second time and has an unruly stepson who shot out the eye of a neighbor's lion statue. Maxine brings in the hats which at first are all wrong but obtains straw hats for the show. Atia Gravely is excellent as the shy, demure Andy who is hiding a secret that she has an abusive husband. She wears spectacles and appears awkward but dances up a storm with the other girls at the performance. Her shining moment comes when she explodes in fury at Vera for butting into other people's lives. Glenn Fournier is Geoffrey and appears noncommittal during the continual tiffs among the women. His wife has died from cancer and he is trying to get over her death. Glenn gets a solo spot as the only man in the class and he does it with finesse. Cindy McCarron plays the pretentious,Vera who constantly tidies up the stuff on the piano, cleans the bathroom windows and makes disparaging remarks. One of the funniest moments in the show comes when Cindy as Vera proclaims to Sylvia, "I once was as fat as you, when I was pregnant with my daughter." Her crass comments are hysterical and so is the silver lame outfit she wears in one scene. Rachel Morandi plays Sylvia who swears up a storm, proclaims she is overweight and has two left feet. She wears sneakers at first and forgets to pay for class a couple of times. Rachel shows off her dramatic chops when she confronts Dorothy for ratting out her husband at work and during the comic scenes she has perfect facial expressions for the punch lines. Judy Wahl is a hoot as the feisty, Rose whose son didn't finish school and needs a job, obtaining it from Maxine. She appears with a straight haired wig in the first act and has a curly head of hair in the second. Judy's supposed clumsiness at first gives way to talented dancing at the show. A word about the theatre includes their expansion into the building behind them which gives them a new lobby, class and office space. While other theatres are downsizing MMAS is expanding. Also there is a special discount price on Thursday nights. So for an excellent show with laughs and poignancy along the way, be sure to catch "Stepping Out" at the Black Box Theatre in Mansfield. Tell them Tony sent you.