Shall We Dance

Directed and choreographed by Adam Cooper
Sadler's Wells
(2009)

In Shall We Dance, Adam Cooper has created a lavish, highly sentimental and schmaltzy tribute to Richard Rodgers. A rousing orchestra powers through iconic tunes from Oklahoma!, Babes in Arms and The Sound of Music whilst Cooper leaps from continent to continent in search of the perfect lady to dance with. It's a strange narrative concept - in each scene Cooper finds himself a new girl to fall in love with: we've got European Girl (Lorraine Stewart), Russian Girl (Rachel Muldoon), Eastern Girl (Noi Tolmer) and many more. In each continent he gets himself into a few sticky situations with the lovers of these girls, all of whom obviously fall head over heels for Cooper.

I wonder why he needed this narrative at all. Rodgers' music is magnificent and massively influential, but not half as much fun without the lyrics that go with them. At each moment I wanted the dancers, most of who hail from the world of musical theatre, to break into song and truly celebrate the fantastic music which was so influential.

Instead, we have beautiful waltzes and rousing quicksteps which would garner full marks on Strictly Come Dancing along with Cooper throwing in a few underwhelming contemporary ballet solos along the way. An extended Flower Drum Song section (with a bit of The King and I thrown in for good measure) feels like we're watching the opening of the Beijing Olympics, complete with Chinese dragon puppet.

Cooper's choreography shines in two high-octane, upbeat sections. The jive in Act One is magnificent, and reminded me of the power of both musical theatre and ensemble dancing. Girls flying through the air, contemporary twists on swing-dancing and energy oozing from the stage made me want to get up and join them. When Cooper is set out to sea in a beer barrel and finds himself in the Southern states of the good 'ole USA I cringed inside. I did not expect a simply breathtaking tap number to "The Farmer and the Country" leading into a Hoe Down medley which would make the most stoical of audience members break out into a huge smile.

These numbers illustrate why Cooper's musical theatre choreography and performing career is going from strength to strength. The rest of the show comes across as a vanity project which puts too much emphasis on a weak and somewhat dubious storyline. As Cooper transports to seedy New York City, he falls for a poor, lost prostitute. Just as we think he's found true love, poor Slaughter Girl (the clue's in the name) is shot. So, Cooper obviously shoots the man who has slain Slaughter Girl, and then promptly forgets about when the Right Girl turns up. And they dance...

"Shall We Dance" runs until 30 August

Terry O'Donovan