A tap-happy musical romp, Hot Shoe Shuffle, was a big hit in its native Australia in the early ’90s, and then went on to similar acclaim in London’s West End. Although next aimed for Broadway, the show never made it to New York, but decades later the revived show arrives this weekend at the Wick Theatre in Boca Raton.
Managing executive producer Marilynn Wick went looking for another tap show following the success of last season’s Crazy for You. “I’ve had this show on my radar for some time now,” she says of Hot Shoe Shuffle, the tale of seven tap dancing brothers who are bequeathed $2 million from their long absent, now-deceased father, on the condition that they reconstruct and produce his former show in four weeks’ time.
Jonathan Van Dyke readily concedes that he never heard of Hot Shoe Shuffle before being chosen to direct the Wick’s version. But he previously worked with David Atkins, the show’s original director, on the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
“I had an understanding of what it was going to take to make the show a success. And still I said yes,” jokes Van Dyke. “I had some apprehensions but they’re all gone. With the cast that Justin (Lewis, the choreographer) and I have assembled, we’re going to be fine.”
“Tap is one of those art forms that always, to me, packs a punch,” says Van Dyke. “But it hadn’t been in the spotlight for a long time. And now to have it performed by an ensemble of men helps tremendously.”
The seven brothers are named for tap dance moves that suggest their characters’ personalities. Wing is the intellectual one, Buck is the tougher brother, Slap is the dimmer brother, Slide is the youngest, naïve brother. Tip and Tap are twins who like the ladies, and Spring is the oldest brother who is the leader they all look up to and listen to.
“As difficult as the tap is, we’ve also tried to flesh out the story and their individual characters,” says Van Dyke. “How they move as a unit, but also how important it is for each of them to have their own individual personalities.”
Van Dyke also knew that finding the right choreographer would be crucial. Fortunately, reaching out to his contacts in the dance community led him to Lewis. “We were looking for a choreographer that had a history in not just musical theater tap, but almost competition tap. Hoofing. It’s a different kind of tap than 42nd Street.”
Tap is Lewis’s strong suit. “They needed someone who knew all the different genres of tap. And I’ve been in so many productions, worked with competition studios,” he notes, “so this show is ideal for me.”
Then there was the challenge of finding expert tappers who were also triple threats. “They had to be amazing dancers, they had to have a likeability factor, and they had to sing well and act well,” says Van Dyke.
As is increasingly common on a nationwide talent search, the cast was found through video submissions. “Justin choreographed two little tap pieces as the audition that we would send out and they would record themselves doing it. Also acting scenes and vocals,” says Van Dyke. “Ninety-nine percent of it was done long distance. Finding those well-rounded individuals who could knock it all out was the challenge.”
The show’s first act is more character-driven, as the audience gets to know the brothers and their struggle to learn the steps of their father’s act. “Then in Act Two, the show has been put together and there’s a 20-minute non-stop, energy-filled, razzle-dazzle of dance. Hopefully by this point the audience will have cared for the characters enough that not only will they be entertained, they will be hooked in emotionally,” suggests Van Dyke.
Helping that emotional tug is the show’s score of vintage Big Band tunes. “The list of composers includes Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Fats Waller, each song is a hit unto itself.” Among them are “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” “Long Ago and Far Away,” “Shall We Dance” and “Pennsylvania 6-5000.”
“The audience will know these songs,” promises Lewis. “And we have a 10-piece live orchestra.”
The challenge, says Lewis, is creating a contemporary show with a nod to the past. “My vision was saying, ‘How do we take this show out of the 1990s and bring it into 2019? How do we make it a 2019 spin on the ’40s era vibe?’ ”
While he researched the show’s history extensively, Van Dyke is not sure what went wrong with the earlier attempt to bring Hot Shoe Shuffle to the United States. “When they wanted it to come to New York, they first did a five-city tour. But all they took from Australia was the title and the concept,” says Van Dyke. “They brought in new book writers and new music. It didn’t go well. I don’t know if it failed for financial reasons or an inability of the new creators to all get along. It may have been too many cooks in the kitchen.”
If all goes well at the Wick, Hot Shoe Shuffle may have a life after Boca. “Well, the license holder, who was also involved in the original production, is coming to see it,” reports Van Dyke. “And we’d like to invite David Atkins to come. They’re excited that we’re doing it. I think they have a great love of this particular show. It made him a big star and a lot of people happy.”
The show’s attraction, he adds, is “To have all of this talent and music and dancing under one roof for two hours. I think that is very special. And no one knows this show. So hopefully it will be a nice surprise.”
HOT SHOE SHUFFLE, The Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway. Boca Raton. Oct. 17-Nov. 10. $75-$85. 561-995-2333 or visit thewick.org.