Stepper's Ball | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The habitues of Sammy's Castle Club are normally content just to get by as best they can in an indifferent world, but as the dance contest at the fourth annual Stepper's Ball approaches, latent ambitions and interpersonal conflicts arise that force each individual to decide what is most important to him or her. Phyliss Curtwright's Stepper's Ball, last July's modest little summer musical, has mellowed into a warm and nostalgic autumn showcase for Curtwright's original songs (written in a variety of styles to echo such benchmark 1960s vocalists as Dionne Warwick, James Brown, and the Shirelles), Julian Swain's intricate dances (many of which have been rechoreographed to include more full-ensemble numbers), and a talented cast of mostly young actors who attack their archetypal roles with compassion, humor, and enthusiasm. Returning to ETA for this revival are many of the leading players, including Kenny Davis as the idealistic Lamar, Elaine Joyner as the social-climbing Francine, and the unsurpassable ElFeigo as Sammy himself, whose sandpaper voice and avuncular advice anchor this lightweight show. Though sometimes verging on sitcom sweetness, Stepper's Ball offers enough wry social commentary to leave us reflecting.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kenneth Simmons.

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