Happy feet & hopeful hearts in Alumnae Theatre’s delightful, poignant Stepping Out

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Front: Jessica Westermann Back (l to r): Felicia Simone, Mish Tam, Kay Randewich, Alyssa Quart Cartlidge, Rebecca Grenier, Scott Turner & Lisa Kovack in Stepping Out – photo by Bruce Peters

Alumnae Theatre Company’s got its dancing shoes on as it mounts its retrospective production for the 2015-16 season: Richard Harris’s Stepping Out (originally produced by Alumnae in 1989), which opened on the main stage to a packed house last night. Directed by Executive Producer Brenda Darling, assisted by Liz Best, and choreographed by Alyssa Martin and Jessica Westermann (Act I), with support from dance coach Sandra Burley.

Set in 1980s London in a local church hall, Stepping Out takes us on the year and a half-long journey of one of Mavis’s (Jessica Westermann) tap dance classes, accompanied by pianist Mrs. Fraser (Jeanette Dagger). The class includes seven women and one man: Lynne (Mish Tam), a cheerful and sensitive nurse; Dorothy (Kay Randewich), the sweet, mousy, bicycle-riding mensch of a social services worker; Maxine (Lisa Kovack), a vivacious saleswoman; Andy (Rebecca Grenier), introverted and painfully awkward, but committed to learn; Rose (Linette Doherty), the wry-witted Trini wife and mother run ragged looking after everyone but herself; Sylvia (Felicia Simone), the outspoken, genuine and irreverent youngster; Geoffrey (Scott Turner), the quiet, gentle widower; and newcomer Vera (Alyssa Quart Cartlidge), the wealthy, prim Stepford wife meets Martha Stewart housewife who lacks an internal editor.

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Jessica Westermann, Jeanette Dagger & Alyssa Quart Cartlidge – photo by Bruce Peters

The cast does a lovely job telling the stories of this class and these characters. Stand-outs include Westermann (also the cast dance captain), who brings a warm, saint-like patience and nurturing quality to Mavis, a woman struggling to make ends meet and supporting an unemployed boyfriend; she’s an extremely talented hoofer with broken dreams of her own. Dagger is deliciously abrasive as Mrs. Fraser, the dance class’s stern and fastidious accompanist; a mother figure to Mavis who helps with the administration of the classes, there’s more to her piano talents than just tinkling the ivories for dance students. Kovack’s Maxine is an extroverted gal-on-the-go and former child performer with a can-do attitude; struggling at home with an unruly stepson and absent husband, she too is clearly dancing as fast as she can to beat the blues. As for Grenier’s Andy, still waters run deep; the shy, submissive and plain exterior belies a deep inner strength, fierceness and beauty. And beneath the tough-talking cockiness and everyday vanity, Simone’s Sylvia is a tired young wife who wants a break – and to feel beautiful again.

Ultimately, for everyone involved in the class, it’s not just about dancing – it’s about filling an empty place inside, and finding family and a sense of belonging.

With shouts to the design team: Doug Payne (set designer/lead carpenter), Bill Scott (lighting), Bec Brownstone (costumes), Razie Brownstone (props) and Rick Jones (sound assembly).

Happy feet and hopeful hearts in Alumnae Theatre’s delightful, poignant production of Stepping Out.

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Jessica Westermann stepping out solo – photo by Bruce Peters

Stepping Out continues on the Alumnae main stage until Feb 6. You can get advance tickets online or by calling the box office: 416-364-4170; or you can purchase in person (cash only) at the box office one hour before show time. Special events include a pre-show panel discussion on Sun, Jan 24 from 12:30-1:30pm: “Stepping Out Through the Arts” Can the Arts heal? And on Sat, Jan 30 at 8pm: 80s Dress-Up Night – Should blue eye shadow be banned?

Check out this experiential piece by Toronto Star writer Melanie Chambers on auditioning for Stepping Out. And take a look at the Stepping Out trailer (by Nicholas Porteus):

Dancing, dancing & more dancing

While trying to come up with the headline for today’s post, I realized that all the stuff I have to tell you about involves dancing in some way, shape or form.

Friday night: Chic Productions’ annual spring women’s dance at the Palais Royale (http://www.palaisroyale.ca/): Spice Up Your Spring, featuring DJ Roxanne and Spice Girls tribute band WANNABE (http://www.facebook.com/WannabeSGT). Big, big fun in a beautiful, historic venue. DJ Roxanne spun a nice mix of slow and fast songs, from Bieber and Michael to a two-pack of Adele ballads to dance music of all flavours. WANNABE was gorgeous – performing a set of fave Spice Girls tunes, then hanging out with the folks afterwards. Nice work, ladies!

Saturday night was my pal Kerri’s 50th birthday at The Sultan’s Tent (http://www.thesultanstent.com/). It’s one of those places in Toronto I’ve heard so many good things about, but never been – and what a beautiful restaurant venue! You are literally transported to another place in this opulent Moroccan restaurant. The four-course dinner menu is delicious (I had the olives and maftoul to start, braised lamb for my main and the Moroccan treats for dessert, along with a lovely Long Flats Shiraz with dinner and mint tea to finish). And the best part – aside from the decor – was the belly dancing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After dinner, we went downstairs to Berber Lounge (http://www.berberlounge.ca/) for a final round of drinks. Again, gorgeous space – and we had a quiet corner section near the bar, so we were able to chat and relax as we continued the celebration. A great evening of friends, food and fun.

This afternoon, I went to see Damsels in Distress, a witty, charming and insightful film by writer/director Whit Stillman. A fine young cast – and I love the smart, Austenesque dialogue from our group of college gals out to civilize the barbaric hordes of frat boys, as well as look after students who are depressed and suicidal. And the most powerful weapon in their arsenal is – you guessed it – dance. Tap dancing, and the creation of a new ballroom dance craze, are featured as the gang ventures to rise above the daily stresses of campus life and romance. Smart, quirky fun, with an excellent cast and a gorgeous campus. Check it out:

All in all, a big fun weekend. And now, on to some Sunday night t.v.