In a low-rent dance studio in northern Minnesota, a group of working-class amateurs seek to overcome their inhibitions and left feet each Thursday night.
That's what audiences will experience from the comedic play "Stepping Out," coming to the Brainerd stage 7:30 p.m. April 4-6 and 2 p.m. April 7 at the Franklin Arts Center, presented by Stage North Theatre Co. and the Retirement Learning Center.
The bumbling students learn to dance from Mavis, a former professional chorus girl. The class is light-hearted fun and sweet relief from day-to-day life-until its members are invited to perform a tap routine at a major fundraiser. A 1984 comedy written by Richard Harris and later immortalized in a film starring Liza Minnelli, "Stepping Out" follows the hilarity, mishaps and minor drama as the troupe tries to pull it together in time to tap their way into the hearts of a real audience, a news release stated.
"Come for the humor, come for the talent, come for the heartwarming story, but most of all, come for the tap dancing," Choreographer Wendy DeGeest stated in the release. "I guarantee you will leave the theater with a spring in your step, and maybe even a shuffle or two on your way out the door after seeing 'Stepping Out,' it's that much fun. Don't miss it."
Jenny Kiffmeyer plays Mavis. The class is made up of Dorothy played by Kari Erickson, Lynne played by Elaina Tanner, Rose played by Chelsey Perkins, Vera played by Jana Johnson, Maxine played by Jocelyn Tanner, Sylvia played by Karla Johnson, Andy played by Kim Huether, Geoffrey played by Mark Oehrlein, David played by Jesse Brutscher and Brian played by Alex Erickson. Barb McColgan plays Mrs. Fraser, the pianist.
At the recital, meet hostess Liz Beckley played by Jessica Dewey and the Sugar Plum Cowgirls, played by Emily Brack, Raven Davis, Isabel Pence, Abby Pratt, Bianca Purdy and Lauren Yeager.
"I've been amazed at how well-written the script is," stated Director Gary Hirsch. "Our actors have found the cores of their characters early and the development is amazing. It has a great combination of Broadway-style dance with endearing characters who will win you over in the first scene. It's a clever story that will warm your heart. You won't want to miss it."
The show first caught the eyes of Hirsch and DeGeest while they visited London.
"When Wendy and I saw the show in London, we immediately fell in love with it," Hirsch stated. "We felt it is the type of show that would work well in our space and with the actors and dancers in the area."
DeGeest stated, "I had tears streaming down my face at the end of the production. You get to know the characters and learn to love how quirky and funny they are and you just can't help but love them when they pull it all together at the end of the show."
As rehearsals for the production have progressed, Hirsch and DeGeest said it's been pleasantly comical to watch life imitate art and vice versa.
"We have had many days where we have literally laughed out loud at the irony of how art imitates life with this production. The dancers have struggled over difficult tap steps, have dropped hats, whacked partners with canes, and crashed into each other while trying to weave past each other with the ever-moving choreography," DeGeest stated. "The dancers have worked so hard on this production. They have sweated, have laughed, have cried and have put in hours of practice and are now ready to show you what they have learned."
Also helping make the production come to life are Oehrlein, technical director; Heather Pearson, costumer; Kim Utesch, stage manager and Jared Foss, soundboard operator.
This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Five Wings Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural and Heritage Fund.
If you go
• What: Stage North Theatre Co. and Retirement Learning Center present "Stepping Out."
• When: 7:30 p.m. April 4-6; 2 p.m. April 7.
• Where: Franklin Arts Center, 1001 Kingwood St.
• Tickets: On sale now by calling 218-232-6810, ordering online at www.stagenorththeater.com, stopping in at the A-2-Z Yarn Shop at Franklin Arts Center, or through B-bay. Tickets are $10 for adults, $9 for seniors and $5 for children. Seating is general admission and begins 30 minutes before the performance.