Pros: West End regular Jessica Martin shines, with help from a delightful company.
Cons: Casting of support roles is a touch wayward, given the characters’ supposed ages.
The Waterloo East Theatre is yet another venue I’d not previously known, tucked away in a nondescript street adjacent to Waterloo station. Since its opening in 2010, the theatre has played host to over 80 productions and sold in excess of 75,000 tickets; no mean feat for a 100-seater venue. Ballroom was also new to me; having played on Broadway in the 1970s it now receives its European premier. The creatives include Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Academy Award winners who can boast Windmills of Your Mind and The Way We Were among their songwriting credits.
It tells the story of Bea, still mourning the loss of husband Morrie, who fills her time running a second-hand shop. Her friend Angie begs her to get out and start living again. Bea finally relents and they visit their local dancehall, the Stardust Ballroom, where she meets mailman Al Rossi and falls in love again. But true love never runs smoothly; Al hasn’t been entirely honest about his private life. Bea has to face an age-old dilemma, as her sister-in-law Shirley rages at the insult to Morrie’s memory, and daughter Marlene tuts disapprovingly. What will Bea do? Will she follow her heart and grab happiness however it’s wrapped?
By and large the show hits all the right notes; the songs are bright, choreography tidy and performances pleasing throughout. Jessica Martin is excellent as Bea, and pulls off a near perfect New Yoik accent, no doubt perfected during her time voicing for Spitting Image. Natalie Moore-Williams is totally adorable as best mate Angie, while West End veteran Gerry Tebbutt as Scooter is one of the coolest movers on stage. However the casting persistently nagged at me. The storyline relies on the lonely 50-something looking for companionship at the local dance club, so the Stardust Ballroom logically becomes a singles club where the guys and girls pair up. But many of the guys look significantly older than the girls; Angie looks barely 30, even underneath a blond beehive wig, yet pairs up with Lightfeet, who looks old enough to be her father. Of course age is just a number and it shouldn’t really matter, provided the characters carry the story properly, but it does matter here, as the plot seems to require age specific casting. Therein lies the only real weakness in an otherwise solid production.
Book: Jerome Allan Kass
Music: Billy Goldenberg
Lyrics: Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman
Director: Gerald Armin
Musical Director: Inga Davis- Rutter
Choreographer: Nancy Kettle
Booking until: 4 June 2017
Producer: Waterloo Theatre East
Box Office: 020 7928 0060
Booking Link: https://waterlooeast.ticketsolve.com/shows/873572424/events