The Concourse, Chatswood, February 27
Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks was a big hit for the Ensemble Theatre in 2006, winning a 2007 Helpmann Award for Best Regional Touring Production when they took it on the road.
The production was blessed to have Nancye Hayes and Todd McKenney co-starring in the bittersweet two-hander. A decade on, the Ensemble is doubly blessed that Hayes and McKenney have reunited with director Sandra Bates for the current revival. It’s perfect casting and even more touching than last time around.
The 2001 comedy by American playwright Richard Alfieri has a classic odd-couple premise. Set in a light, bright, well-appointed Florida condominium, wealthy retiree Lily Harrison, the lonely, prim widow of a Baptist minister, has hired a dance instructor to polish her ballroom dancing.
Enter Michael Minetti, an acerbic, middle-aged, gay, former Broadway chorus boy with plenty of attitude and a bad case of foot-in-mouth.
Things don’t get off to a good start. Both initially have their guard up and are less than honest with each other. Early antagonisms threaten to detonate their lessons before they begin. But gradually they foxtrot, cha-cha, tango and waltz their way to a blossoming friendship, realising that they have far more in common than they could ever have imagined.
Six Dance Lessons is well-written with lots of zingy one-liners but it’s also fairly predictable and sentimental and could easily become schmaltzy if allowed to.
However, under Bates’ direction, Hayes and McKenney play against the sentimentality and create tough, flawed, warmly believable characters. They have a lovely rapport and both are able to play the cut-and-thrust of the comedy superbly while convincingly suggesting the emotional scars both characters carry within.
Both Hayes and McKenney are very experienced dancers, of course, so the dancing (choreographed by John O’Connell) is effortless and full of charm. The fact that they are ten years older this time actually suits the roles and lends the play an added poignancy.
Designer Graham Maclean’s gleaming set and attractive costuming makes for a vibrant looking production that complements the feisty comedy.
Gently touching on homophobia, loneliness and ageism, Six Dance Lessons wears its heart on its sleeve but Hayes and McKenney do the play proud, bringing enough nuance to their roles to make the lightweight comedy a moving plea for understanding and acceptance.
Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks is at The Concourse, Chatswood until March 13. Bookings: www.ensemble.com.au
This review ran in the Daily Telegraph Arts online on February 29