This production marks the European premiere of David Thompson, John Kander and Fred Ebb’s Great Depression-set musical about a dance marathon on Atlantic City’s famous Steel Pier, inspired by Horace McCoy’s 1935 novel ‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’
Ostensibly about the romance between mysterious stunt pilot Billy Kelly (Jay Rincon) and fading dance star Rita Racine (Sarah Galbraith), the real draw of Paul Taylor-Mills’s production is the desperate throng of contestants around them.
The leads are fine (although Rincon’s singing is often overpowered by the band), but the supernaturally-tinged whimsy of their relationship is never strong enough to support the weight of the show.
A talented ensemble cast picks up the slack, though, bickering, back-stabbing and throwing themselves into Richard Jones’s barnstorming dance sequences as if their lives depended on it – which, for their destitute characters, they do.
The tone darkens as the sleep-deprived contestants endure humiliating routines to win the money and fame they believe will pull them out of the pit of their lives. The bag of coins we’re given to throw is a nice touch, implicating us in the marathon’s tawdriness, but the show loses focus in the second act as it ventures into ‘Thriller’ territory with zombie-like make-up and choreography.
First published by Time Out