David Atkins Enterprises, Lyric Theatre, Queensland Performing Arts Centre, May 4
Before The Boy From Oz and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – The Musical, there was Hot Shoe Shuffle: the little musical that could.
It was the first Australian musical to play in London’s West End, where it won an Olivier Award for best choreography, and subsequently toured the UK, Japan, Canada and the US, as well as returning for two Australian tours.
Now, 21 years since it premiered and 11 years since it was last seen here, Hot Shoe Shuffle is back – and feeling fresh as a daisy in an exuberant production that had the Brisbane opening night audience on its feet cheering.
The paper-thin story is pretty silly. The seven Tap Brothers discover that they stand to inherit over $2 million from their father – but only if they can recreate his famous tap-dancing act, the Hot Shoe Shuffle. What’s more they must include April, the sister they didn’t know they had, who has two left feet.
The Tap Brothers: Morgan Junor-Larwood, Mason Schaube, Rob Mallett, Bobby Fox, Mitchell Hicks, Max Patterson, Alexander Kermond.
Though the plot has been rewritten slightly, with April telling the boys right near the top of the show that she isn’t actually their sister but the daughter of their father’s leading lady, it’s still just an excuse on which to hang some standards from the 1940s big band era (I Get Along Without You Very Well, Puttin’ on the Ritz, Shall We Dance and Ac-cent-tchu-ate The Positive among others) and some spectacular tap dancing.
However, the song and dance numbers are good enough, and the show warm-hearted enough, for the flimsiness of the plot not to really matter.
Hot Shoe Shuffle was co-choreographed by David Atkins and Dein Perry (who went on to create Tap Dogs). Atkins also directed and played Spring, the eldest of the Tap brothers and leader of the pack.
Playing opposite him as April was Rhonda Burchmore (Jackie Love and Debra Byrne took on the role in later seasons). In the original incarnation Spring and April were twins and the huge height difference between Atkins and Burchmore was a running gag in the show.
Atkins now plays the senior role of Dexter Tap and his various alter-egos, while Bobby Fox steps into the role of Spring and Jaz Flowers plays April.
Jaz Flowers and Bobby Fox.
Fox and Flowers both bring their own personalities to the roles and make them their own. The height difference is no longer there but the chemistry between them sparkles.
Sporting a red wig, Flowers looks fabulous in the 1940s-style cotton frock and gorgeous gowns. Her April is a little less goofy and klutzy, and more of a feisty girl who longs to perform but lacks confidence. Flowers is in fine voice, singing the numbers with power but subtlety, and she holds her own as a dancer.
Fox brings his twinkling charisma to the role of Spring. Less hard-boiled than Atkins’ Spring, he is more of an eye-rolling cynic and perfectionist, who keeps his distance while his brothers flock to April like moths to a flame. His dancing has a lovely ease (with a cheeky nod to his Irish dancing background) and he sings well, proving himself a genuine leading man.
Atkins is a great anchor as the older Dexter, while the six other Tap Brothers – played by Morgan Junor-Larwood, Rob Mallett, Mitchell Hicks, Alexander Kermond, Max Patterson and Mason Schaube – all emerge as distinctive personalities.
The choreography, which was created as a tribute to the tap dancing legends who inspired Atkins, combines the elegant style of the 1930s and 40s with an exciting, contemporary energy and sense of fun. Overall, the dancing does it justice, while Patterson makes the most of a solo, which he nails.
The cartoony-looking production, with set by Eamon D’Arcy and costumes by Janet Hine, feels brighter than ever. Hine’s costumes, though similar to the originals, have been redesigned with even more vibrant colours for the boys and some stunning new outfits for April, while LED lights add extra razzle-dazzle to the final tap routine.
The 11-piece band, meanwhile, under musical director David Stratton performs with panache.
Hot Shoe Shuffle is an unashamedly old-fashioned, feel-good show. This 21st anniversary production is as impressive as any that have gone before and a fun, uplifting night of theatre.
QPAC until May 25; Lyric Theatre, Sydney, July 5 – 21; Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, August 9 – 25.