Stepping Out (1991 film)
One-sheet promotional poster
|Directed by||Lewis Gilbert|
|Written by||Richard Harris|
|Music by||Peter Matz|
|Edited by||Humphrey Dixon|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
This article needs an improved plot summary. (October 2015)
Mavis Turner conducts instruction in tap dancing inside a Buffalo, New York church basement. Once an aspiring Broadway hoofer, Mavis is now merely trying to make ends meet, while also struggling with a personal relationship with a career-frustrated musician boyfriend.
With the glum Mrs. Fraser accompanying on piano, Mavis tries to teach tap to a class of colorful women and a solitary man, the bashful Geoffrey. Few are aware at first that one woman, Andi, is seeking a form of escape from a physically abusive husband. Others with a variety of extroverted personalities attend class simply for their own amusement, occasionally getting on each other's nerves.
Concerned about money and keeping the class going, Mavis learns of a talent competition and persuades the group that it can compete. While dealing with their personal issues, the "Mavis Turner Tappers" end up performing a glamorous, glitzy number on stage, flawed but rewarding to all.
Most of the actors are Broadway-level actors and performers, several of whom have won Tony Awards, specifically Minnelli, Jane Krakowski, Andrea Martin, Bill Irwin and Ellen Greene (nominee). Shelley Winters and Minnelli are Academy Award winners, and Walters is an Oscar nominee as well as being a BAFTA and Golden Globe Award winner. Carol Woods was the only member of the Broadway cast to appear in the film.
- Liza Minnelli as Mavis Turner, a former Broadway dancer and singer who teaches a tap class in Buffalo, New York
- Bill Irwin as Geoffrey, a shy insurance salesman, and the only man in the group
- Ellen Greene as Maxine, a cute, funny, and slightly wild mom
- Robyn Stevan as Sylvia, a loud-mouthed buddy of Rose.
- Jane Krakowski as Lynne, a sensitive Registered Nurse, one of the best dancers
- Sheila McCarthy as Andi, a mousey, insecure battered wife
- Andrea Martin as Dorothy, a naive but sincere housewife with an allergy problem
- Julie Walters as Vera, a wealthy but inadvertently abrasive woman
- Carol Woods as Rose, a vibrant woman with a teenage son who gets into trouble
- Shelley Winters as Mrs. Fraser, a dour rehearsal pianist
- Luke Reilly as Patrick, Mavis's conceited, insensitive boyfriend
- Nora Dunn as Pam, director of the upscale dance center, a rival to Mavis
- Eugene Robert Glazer as Frank, Andi's husband
- Géza Kovács as Jerry
- Raymond Rickman as Alan
Differences between play and film
The setting of the play was transferred from a gritty North London suburb to gritty Buffalo, New York. Mavis's backstory was expanded to allow her a chance to sing more (in the play she has a role equal to those of the students).
The students' personalities are generally the same on stage and screen, with minor changes. For example, Rose was initially a Trinidadian, a significant immigrant population in London. Any character outside the class is an addition for the film, as well as any scene outside the classroom and the final production number.
John Kander and Fred Ebb wrote a new song for the film, the title number, which is given a presentation at the film's end, in which the formerly awkward troupe reveal themselves to now be polished performers.
The film was designed as a motion picture comeback for Liza Minnelli. In the 1970s, after the great success of her film, Cabaret, for which she won the Oscar for Best Actress, Minnelli starred in three films, Lucky Lady, A Matter of Time, and New York, New York, all of which failed at the box office. In 1981, she co-starred with Dudley Moore in the hit comedy film Arthur. After that, in 1988, she teamed with Burt Reynolds in the film Rent-a-Cop and again with Moore in the comedy Arthur 2: On the Rocks, both of which were financial failures.
There was anticipation[by whom?] that Stepping Out would re-establish Minnelli's film career. Originally Stepping Out was to be released in the spring of 1991 to coincide with her New York concert stage show Live from Radio City Music Hall, but because of a corporate restructuring at Paramount Pictures, the film's opening was delayed until the fall of 1991. Minnelli was interviewed on both Donahue and The Joan Rivers Show, and the cast of Stepping Out (minus Ellen Greene and Julie Walters) appeared on The Sally Jessy Raphael Show to promote the film. When it was released on October 4, 1991, Stepping Out garnered decent reviews but only grossed $246,000 total in the United States and then went straight to video.
In reviewing the film for The New York Times, critic Stephen Holden wrote: "Because the movie adaptation was conceived as a star vehicle for Ms. Minnelli, the actress is given two solo dance turns, choreographed by Danny Daniels, in addition to her acting chores. Both numbers jerk the movie, which is never particularly believable, into the realm of pure show-business fantasy, while allowing the star to demonstrate real pizzazz as a modern-day vaudevillian trouper. The final number... is an appealingly brassy, new made-to-order song by John Kander and Fred Ebb. It puts the icing on a movie that is the contemporary equivalent of a Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland 'let's put on a show' romp, seasoned with a dash of 'A Chorus Line'."
Variety, in its 1990 review, described the film: "It's Liza-as-you-love-her in Stepping Out, a modest heartwarmer about a bunch of suburban left-feeters getting it together for a charity dance spot. Fragile ensemble item often creaks under the Minnelli glitz, but results are likeable enough."
Roger Ebert said, "The [stage play] contained more dancing and was generally more engaging, maybe simply because it was on the stage. As a song-and-dance picture, it talks too much. As a drama, it's superficial and locked into a formula."