On Your Toes

The City Center Encores! revival of this classic Rodgers & Hart musical is a dancing delight.

Shonn Wiley and Irina Dvorovenko in <i>On Your Toes</i>
Shonn Wiley and Irina Dvorovenko in On Your Toes
(© Joan Marcus)

Irina Dvorovenko has got legs — and she knows how to use them. The great Russian ballerina’s remarkable flexibility is no surprise to regulars of American Ballet Theatre, but Broadway musical aficionados may be getting their first glimpse of her gorgeous gams in the uplifting City Center Encores! revival of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s On Your Toes. And while it’s no shock how well Dvorovenko dances the role of the stripper in the show’s climactic mini-ballet “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” (which utilizes the original George Balanchine choreography), the fun she’s having as the hyperemotional Vera Baranova is among the production’s most pleasant surprises.

Then again, this dance-heavy show is a bit of an outside-the-box choice for Encores!, since what you’ll remember most isn’t what you heard but what you saw. The plot, which revolves around the way former vaudeville star-turned-college professor Junior Dolan (Shonn Wiley) gets mixed up with Baranova and her Russian ballet troupe, is paper thin. Will Junior succumb to Vera’s come-ons and forget about true love, Frankie Frayne (Kelli Barrett)? Will the wealthy Peggy Porterfield (Christine Baranski) force egotistical ballet impresario Sergei Alexandrovitch (an amusing Walter Bobbie) to let his company perform the jazz-influenced “Slaughter”? And will Vera’s jealous lover Konstantine Morrosine (Joaquin De Luz) succeed in having Junior killed? The outcomes are never in doubt.

Meanwhile, the score is not one of Rodgers & Hart’s greatest. True, the ever-catchy ditty “There’s A Small Hotel” and the clever “It’s Got to be Love,” nicely executed by the fresh-faced Wiley and clear-voiced Barrett, are delightfully hummable. Frankie’s ballad “Glad to Be Unhappy” is among the pair’s finest creations, even if Barrett could give the song just a touch more pathos. And Baranski uses her impeccable comic timing to great advantage on the duets “The Heart is Quicker Than the Eye” and “Too Good for the Average Man,” even if neither ditty is fully worthy of her unrivaled talents.

Fortunately, the large troupe of dancers really gets to shine thanks to Warren Carlyle, who uses the many guns in his arsenal to keep us entertained. The show’s opener, “Two-a-Day for Keith,” is a wonderful vaudevillian tribute, performed to perfection by Randy Skinner, Karen Ziemba, and Dalton Harrod. Carlyle has great fun putting his own stamp on the ridiculous “La Princesse Zenobia Ballet,” in which the fleet-footed Wiley garners laughs for his awkwardness and abandon. De Luz (a longtime veteran of both ABT and New York City Ballet) earns frequent applause for his amazing leaps. Most impressive is the director-choreographer’s roof-raising take on the show’s title song, a spectacular dance-off between Dolan’s tap-happy students and the ballet troupe that almost has the audience on its feet.

While this production is far from likely to transfer to Broadway (where On Your Toes was last revived in 1983), it is a fitting finale for the company’s 20th anniversary season, and a herald of what to expect in the coming years.

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