Confident Billy Finds His Feet

Claire Bloom
Evening Standard

The imperishably beautiful Claire Bloom, who wears her 75 years as if she has tossed the last 20 of them aside, does not rush to mind as suitable casting for Lily Harrison, a lonely American Baptist minister's widow who comes to adore Michael, her gay dancing instructor.

Besides, you would never expect to find the serious-minded Miss Bloom caught up in this madly popular, rather soppy, romantic comedy by American playwright Richard Alfieri.

Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks, which since its Broadway premiere has been produced all over the world and is due to become a feature film, does just what it says in the title and a bitter-sweet, little bit extra. Miss Bloom's answer to the problem of her miscasting turns out to be simple and poignant: she breaks Alfieri's implausible thematic frame-work and turns Lily into a dream-struck fantasist, without any strong American accent.

As she jubilantly dances a tango or foxtrots or in full ballroom rig, perhaps even stirring memories of her 1952 Ballerina in Chaplin's Limelight, the years fall away. Miss Bloom's Lily looks rapt, far-off and escapist, as though blissfully returned to a state of being young and in love.

Alfieri has clearly taken an inspirational tip from the play Driving Miss Daisy, in which the black chauffeur and his racially bigoted mistress strike up a mutually affectionate relationship.

Here, or rather in Christopher Woods's authentic design of a pinkish, wicker-work apartment with a view of Florida's St Petersburg beach, Lily is drawn into the arms and later into the heart of the gay, retired chorus boy, Billy Zane's sardonic, wisecracking Michael Minetti.

All Lily's suppressed and not very believable liberal attitudes come pouring out as she takes to his gayness like a cat to cream. It then takes just a few minutes for Lily to take her first lesson in adoration. The pair implausibly come to verbal blows, brawl and banter, while he teaches her, for $50 a session, how to cha-cha and foxtrot. Or does he teach her?

In Alfieri's basic, strange, fairy tale the revelations of how much the pair have lied about themselves come thick, fast and not very surprising. There is more to both of these vulnerable, lonely people than meets the undazzled eye, yet Alfieri never makes their meeting and association much more than a tear-jerking, comic encounter. Arthur Allan Seidelman's awkward production, with its over-long pauses between scenes, does not provide fortifying help either.

The film-starry, handsome Zane, who according to the programme has not acted on stage, makes a surprisingly impressive, far from camp and entirely confident Minetti. Alfieri has saddled the stereotypical Michael with a clichéd gay history of doomed romancing in Florida, a mother lost to Alzheimer's and an unbelievably large dose of Lily's sympathy.

Light on his toes, tart and loose with his words and witty putdowns, quick to lose his temper in a volley of expletives and then quickly recover it, Zane sensibly tones down Michael's notes of self-pity. Miss Bloom's sympathising Lily, rather too declamatory at times I fancy, behaves as if Minetti has lent her a romantic life-line.

The unbelievable sunset finale, as the couple dance together, with Michael apparently set to become Lily's carer, resolves their relationship in a gush of escapist sentimentality that I fear I found quite irresistible.