Tap dancing comes full circle

Merv Beets is directing 16th Ave Theatre’s next play, Stepping Out.

“I was in Stepping Out in Rotorua about 30 years ago,” says Merv, “and Fiona McNeill played Sylvia. Now I’m directing and she’s Mrs Fraser in the Tauranga 2018 production.

“Our theatre did the production 25 years ago, and we have invited the original cast who were in that show to opening night.”

There are other links across time to the 2018 production. Local theatre director Zoe Kennedy directed the Tauranga production 25 years ago, and the choreographer also worked on the same show in Thames.

“The theatre committee phoned me and asked if I’d like to direct it,” says Merv.

“I said I’d love to!”

The play sees ten people come along to tap dancing classes every week for the exercise, and though they’re not great dancers, it tells the story of their lives and the way they interact with each other.

“Some of it gets a bit heavy, but there are some good relationships that come out of that,” says Merv. “Mavis, who is the dance teacher, is invited to perform at a charity concert, and with a bit of pressure and coercion they have to up their game and focus.

“Their performance at the charity concert is the final number.

“It’s a fabulous play. Quite a few of the cast are making their stage debut and they are absolutely loving it.”

The show has a cast of ten, which is reasonably large in terms of the plays that are produced at 16th Ave Theatre.

It is almost an all-female cast, with Ryan Wood the one male actor.

“Ryan is fabulous, and of course he’s a tap dancer,” says Merv. “Mrs Fraser plays the piano for rehearsals, and there’s a big dance number.

Some of the music we’ve taken from the movie, which starred Liza Minnelli.”

The play was written in 1984 and Liza Minnelli starred in the film in 1991.

“Most of the cast are dancers, and they’ve had to learn tap for this show.”

Merv has been directing plays for around 25 years, and oversees and works with people who manage wardrobe, sound, lighting, advertising and set design.

“I have a really fabulous team,” he says.

“We try to give a variety of plays and genres so that we appeal to a wide market. Each year we try and do a drama, a New Zealand play and a comedy. We then slot another one in there.

“We try and present plays that are well-known, and ones that are new. Stepping Out is a drama/comedy that is reasonably well-known.

“It’s been around all these years and it’s enjoying a resurgence - last year it was performed very successfully in Britain.”

Stepping Out runs from November 23 to December 8 at 16th Ave Theatre.