Hayes Theatre, April 7


Don’t you hate it when you can see exactly how you’re being emotionally manipulated, yet it still works? The plot turning-points arrive as punctually as Japanese trains, and yet rather than just dispassionately watching them go by, you’re still sucked in for the ride.

Eric Rasmussen and Nancye Hayes. Top: TomSsharah and Zoe Carides. Photos: David Hooley.

I only have to tell you that this show is based on a true story about nine retirement-age dance enthusiasts who audition to be the half-time entertainment for a professional basketball game, and the emotional box-ticking is obvious. Doubts and adversity inevitably beset them at every turn, with the biggest hurdle being that they are required to perform hip hop.

Say what? Yes, so you can also see how it could all turn into a chocolate eclair stuffed with mock cream – and sometimes it does. Written and developed over some six years (premiering in 2018) by a team comprising Matthew Sklar (music), Nell Benjamin (lyrics) and Chad Beguelin and Bob Martin (book – with additional music by the late Marvin Hamlisch), the show is wildly uneven, afflicted by some lame music and too much subtext crowding the lyrics. Indeed the worst parts leave you bewildered that they survived the show’s development.

Nancye Hayes and cast. Photos: David Hooley.

That being said, how is it possible that Half Time is actually rather good? Because it contains some fun roles if it is astutely cast, and director Helen Dallimore has assembled a pretty ideal group. Her not-so-secret weapon is Nancye Hayes, who plays Dorothy, a kindergarten teacher who can only walk with the cane, but whose alter ego is Dottie, a hip hop devotee. If you just lobbed here from Mars and wondered why the theatre is named after Hayes, go and see this show: some 60 years after it all began for her in the chorus of My Fair Lady, she still commands a stage without trying; still exudes a particular warmth and vitality that magnetise your eyes, even when she’s in a group of 15 dancers. She has a unique way of lending the sad bits a humorous dimension and making the funny bits poignant, and that ability suddenly thickens the show and clouds its predictability.

Two of Hayes’ alumni from the original Oz production of Chicago are here, too: Dolores Dunbar (the potent Joanne) and Joy Miller (Muriel), amid a cast that also includes Donna Lee (Estelle), Zoe Carides (Camilla) and Wendy-Lee Purdy (Fran), so several pages of Australian stage history are treading the boards.

Stephanie Jones. Photos: David Hooley.

Stephanie Jones capably plays Tara, who at the age of 27 was deemed too old to dance for the New Jersey Cougars, so now has the job of herding the nine seniors into some sort of synchronised shuffling. She also convinces them of the relevance of hip hop to any group of people suffering from relevance deprivation. Eric Rasmussen does a fine job as the kind-hearted Ron, the lone male senior, and Tom Sharah lights up the stage with the show’s best dancing (choreographed by Madison Lee), while also enjoying a turn as a cheesy TV breakfast-show host with Jaime Hadwen. Gabrielle Chan, Deni Gordon, Chaska Halliday, Monica Sayers, and Coby Njoroge complete a cast in which everyone has their moment in the sun. Kate Beere’s simple design maximises the dancing space on the small stage, the visual aspect being expanded by video (Aron Murray). The Jessica Manning-led band is adequate rather than exceptional, but then so is most of the music they have to play.

Until May 2.