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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Steel Pier
Union Theatre   Autumn 2012

This year has seen a string of off-West End revivals of Broadway musicals that proved more impressive than the musicals themselves, and now Paul Taylor-Mills' production of Kander and Ebb's 1997 flop continues the pattern as inventive direction, spirited choreography and some attractive performances can't disguise the fact that the show itself isn't very good. 

Musicals don't live and die on their plots, but David Thompson's book for Steel Pier is particularly weak. Set in Atlantic City in 1933 (Brits: think Blackpool), it awkwardly combines the 'marathon dance contests were corrupt and exploitative' theme of They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (whose 1969 film hovers over the musical to its detriment) with a half-hearted romantic triangle and a never fully integrated or explained supernatural element.

The result, in addition to being confused in tone and purpose, never does full justice to any of the elements, neither angry enough for the social criticism nor whimsical enough for the fantasy. 

Kander and Ebb (Cabaret, Chicago, etc.) also seem unable to find a guiding musical tone for the show, the soppier inspirational numbers there are at least two with the exact same dream-and-you-can-fly message really outside their comfort zone, and only the period pastiches and dance numbers having much energy. 

Still, director Taylor-Mills and choreographer Richard Jones treat it as if it were worth their efforts, filling the small Union playing area with an attractive cast and generating some excitement in dance numbers whose only fault (built into the show) is that they are far more energetic than contestants in their 320th hour of marathon dancing ought to be able to manage.

Sarah Galbraith is sympathetic as the contestant who is in on the con of the competition but still dreams that this will be her last marathon. She sings and dances well and (a person hobby horse of mine) can actually make herself be heard without amplification. 

Jay Rincon can't do much with the woodenly-written role of her dance partner, and Ian Knauer is nowhere near slimy enough as the promoter-MC, though Aimie Atkinson as a marathon pro scores in her novelty number 'Everybody's Girl' and Lisa-Anne Wood registers as an ambitious newcomer. 

The fact is that Steel Pier, which lasted two months on Broadway in 1997, really doesn't merit reviving. But if you want to see some talented people almost managing to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, so that when they eventually get material worthy of them you can say you knew them when, or if you just want to fill a gap in your knowledge of Kander and Ebb musicals, here's your chance.

Gerald Berkowitz

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