If you look on the FAQ page of the ‘Remembering Fred’ website, you’ll find that each performance of the British tour contains 33 dance numbers, 120 individual costume changes, and 18,000 tap steps, all in the space of about two hours. With such statistics, it’s not surprising that the audience left the theatre feeling both energised and completely over-stimulated.
The premise of the show is simple – it’s a tribute to Fred Astaire, in the format of a ‘live’ radio broadcast, starring ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ professionals Janette Manrara and Aljaz Skorjanec. When I sat down in the theatre and noticed that the audience around me was primarily of the 60-80 age bracket, I was worried at how closely this was to resemble the somewhat stale ‘Strictly’ trope. Whilst perhaps a few of the dance numbers were too long, the show was interesting, toe-tapping, and above all glittery.
The level of energy that was maintained throughout the show was astounding. The band played tune after tune flawlessly, and the dancers that whirled across the stage did so seamlessly, making their performance look effortless. Miranda Wilford and David Page, who were singing as well as dancing, showed no signs of exhaustion. I was particularly impressed by Alastair Crosswell, who somehow managed to perform a tap number whilst simultaneously playing the drums.
Unfortunately, talented as the singers were, they were overshadowed by the sheer volume of the band. The lyrics of the opening number, in fact, were practically unintelligible because of Shanti Jayasinha’s effusions on the trumpet.The show was redeemed, however, by the enthusiasm of the dancers. It was clear throughout the performance that they were throwing themselves, heart and soul, into their dancing to the point that I could hear them whooping at each other from where I was seated in the dress circle. While the other dancers were somewhat less talented than the leading couple, this was compensated for by their individual skills evinced in the wide variety of dances they were able to perform. Manrara and Skorjanec were stunning, pouring a palpable emotion into each and every one of their dances. Their waltz to ‘Night and Day’ was particularly beautiful, and the audience held their breaths as they watched Manrara fling herself off a ten-foot platform into the dancers’ waiting arms. In his attempt to emulate a 1950s radio studio, director Gareth Walker hit the mark, with the evening very much echoing the glitz and glamour of Astaire’s Hollywood era.
Though the show was primarily a dance performance, I did feel that it would have benefited from more of the ‘Voices in the Dark’ segment, narrated by Michael Ball. Part of the appeal of the evening was in the history and timelessness of Astaire’s career. We heard testimonies from voices such as Ginger Rogers, Astaire’s daughter Ava, and legendary lyricist Don Black. These made the dance numbers all the more special, as it’s clear that Astaire’s style has persisted, and continues to inspire countless dancers to this day.
Overall, this is an entertaining evening that will certainly appeal to Astaire fans. Knowing only little about him prior to the show, I was pleased to find that I came out feeling as if I’d caught a glimpse of the world that he had existed in. If overzealous tap-dancing is not among your interests, however, you may find it somewhat grating to sit through 120 minutes of jazz hands and heel clicks. The show was undoubtedly saved by its featuring Manrara and Skorjanec. Without them, it may have turned out as the overworked show I feared it would be. To my surprise and enjoyment, it was not, and I will undoubtedly recommend it to my Strictly-loving grandmother.
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