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On Your Toes (1936) is a musical with a book by Richard Rodgers, George Abbott, and Lorenz Hart, music by Rodgers, and lyrics by Hart. It was adapted into a film in 1939.

While teaching music at Knickerbocker University, Phil "Junior" Dolan III tries to persuade Sergei Alexandrovich, the director of the Russian Ballet, to stage the jazz ballet "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue". After becoming involved with the company's prima ballerina, Vera Barnova, Junior is forced to assume the male lead in "Slaughter". Trouble ensues when he becomes the target of two thugs hired by Vera’s lover and dance partner to kill him.

On Your Toes marked the first time a Broadwaymarker musical made dramatic use of classical dance and incorporated jazz into its score.

Background

On Your Toes was originally conceived as a film, and as a vehicle for Fred Astaire. His refusal of the part, because he thought that the role clashed with his debonair image developed in his contemporary films, caused it to be produced as a theatrical performance. Richard Rodgers wrote: "Astaire at that point in his career was a pretty chic fellow who usually wore white ties and tails, and the producers felt that there was no chance in our script for him to appear that way." Astaire thought that the ballet background in the plot was too "highbrow" for his audiences.Ray Bolger was given the role, which allowed him to rise to stardom.

Productions

The first Broadway production, directed by C. Worthington Miner and choreographed by George Balanchine, opened on April 11, 1936 at the Imperial Theatremarker, where it ran for seven months before transferring to the Majesticmarker, for a total run of 315 performances. The cast included Ray Bolger, Tamara Geva, and Monty Woolley.

1954 Revival cast recording
1939 Warner Bros. screen adaptation by Lawrence Riley, Richard Macaulay, Jerry Wald, and Sig Herzig was directed by Ray Enright and starred Eddie Albert, Vera Zorina, Alan Hale, Frank McHugh, and Donald O'Connor. The film eliminated all the songs, using them only as underscoring, but retained Balanchine's ballets.

The first Broadway revival, directed by Abbott and choreographed by Balanchine, opened on October 11, 1954 at the 46th Street Theatre, where it ran for 64 performances. The cast included Vera Zorina, Bobby Van, and Elaine Stritch. The original score was embellished with "The Heart Is Quicker than the Eye" and "You Took Advantage of Me."

The second revival, directed by Abbott and choreographed by Donald Saddler, started in 1982 with national previews. One of the original cast members, Natalia Makarova, was injured during the preview at the John F. Kennedy Centermarker in Washington, D.C.marker Valentina Kozlova filled in the role and her former husband, Leonid Kozlov, replaced George de la Peña to complete the previews. After seven previews, the revival opened on March 6, 1983 at the Virginia Theatremarker with the original cast, where it ran for 505 performances. The cast included Natalia Makarova, Christine Andreas, George de la Peña, George S. Irving, Dina Merrill, Philip Arthur Ross, and Lara Teeter.

The London West End production opened on 5 February 1937 at the Palace Theatremarker, with Jack Whiting and Vera Zorina as the dancers.

Synopsis

Act I


On a vaudeville stage, Phil Dolan II, his wife Lili, and his son Junior perform their nightly routine, but afterwards in the dressing-room, the parents tell Junior that he has to go to school. Fifteen years later, as predicted, Junior is a music teacher at Knickerbocker University. He has two talented students: Sidney Cohn and Frankie Frayne. Sidney has written a promising jazz ballet which Frankie catches Junior dancing to alone in the classroom (uncovering his "secret past"), and she trades an introduction to the Russian Ballet's manager in return for his listening to her song.

In the apartment of Vera Baranova, star of the Russian Ballet, Peggy, the manager, enthusiastically tells Sergei, the company's director, about the new jazz ballet. He is not interested in anything new - he doesn't even recognise that the Revolution has happened! Junior arrives as Vera and co-star/unfaithful lover Morrisone are having a Russian screaming match. The others leave, so that Vera and Junior can discuss the new ballet, but that leads to a new entanglement.

Back in the classroom, Frankie is jealous of Junior's stories about Vera and the Russians (Peggy has promised him a chance to dance in the corps de ballet), and they both wish they were away from it all. At the opening of the ballet, La Princesse Zenobia, Junior is told that one of the dancers is in jail and he has to take his place, but onstage he gets all his steps, rhythms and positions cock-eyed and makes a laughing-stock of the ballet. But the audience loves it, nevertheless.

Act II


Sergei, Peggy, Vera, Morrosine and Junior have listened to the jazz ballet. Opinions are mixed, and Vera and Morrosine are still arguing, as he becomes increasingly jealous of Junior. Poor Junior has got love problems, too: he upsets Frankie by going to lunch with Vera (for business reasons) instead of her, but she is "Glad to be Unhappy".

Then Peggy, Sergei, and some of the company visit Junior's school. Sergei has come to break the bad news that he will not be doing the jazz ballet, but Peggy persuades him by threatening to pull out the million dollars she has put into the company. After Sergei's announcement that the next production will be Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, the class put on the title number "On Your Toes", in which the students' jazz and the company's classical routines are deftly combined.

At a rehearsal, Morrosine's jealousy of Junior gets out of control, there is a fight in which he is knocked out by Sergei, and suddenly Junior is the new star. The humiliated Morrosine plots with his gangster friend, Louie, to shoot Junior at the end of the performance. Joe, the stage doorman, overhears and warns Frankie. On-stage, Junior is tipped off and signals to the conductor to avoid the final loud climax which would cover the shot, so he keeps the orchestra playing the last few bars of the music over and over as Junior dances frantically to keep the shooter from firing. Finally, he is grabbed by the police. After the curtain call, Junior is embraced by Frankie, and is startled to see his parents waiting to congratulate him. The music-teacher has made it back to his home-ground - the stage.

Original song list

Act I
  • Two a Day for Keith
  • Questions and Answers (The Three Bs)
  • It's Got to Be Love
  • Too Good for the Average Man
  • There's a Small Hotel
  • Princesse Zenobia Ballet


Act II


1983 awards and nominations

1983 revival cast recording


Film adaptation

In , Warner Bros. filmed On Your Toes as adapted by Sig Herzig and Lawrence Riley and written by Richard Macauley and Jerry Wald, with Ray Enright directing. The film stars balletrina Vera Zorina (billed as "Zorina"), Eddie Albert, Alan Hale and Frank McHugh, and features Leonid Kinskey and Gloria Dickson, with James Gleason, Erik Rhodes, Berton Churchill and Donald O'Connor.

Although some of the songs from the Broadway score were used as background music, the film does not have any singing in it. The "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" ballet does appear at the end of the film, with choreography by George Balanchine, one of eight films he would create the dances for. Eddie Albert's character dances the lead in the ballet, opposite Zorina. According to John Reid, "Albert is no dancer...But with the aid of a visual double for one or two shots plus post-synched taps, he actually manages rather well, and even duets with the great Zorina with reasonable facility."

References

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