For those with a low tolerance for delayed gratification, be forewarned. Hot Shoe Shuffle, the tap dance musical from Australia now being revived by Boca Raton’s Wick Theatre, does eventually heat up, but it takes until the second act for its temperature to rise.
That slow combustion is really built into the show’s storyline. You see, it concerns the seven performing Tap brothers, who learn that their estranged father has died. His will leaves them $2.5 million, on the condition that they resurrect the vintage family act – yes, the Hot Shoe Shuffle – in four short weeks.
So in Act One, the rusty Taps try to dust off the old routines, joined by April, a sister they never knew they had, who can’t seem to dance at all. As a result, much of the show’s first half consists of their clumsy rehearsals. Of course that is a set-up for the rousing tap choreography in Act Two as the show-within-the-show takes over and the tap-happy cast demonstrates that it had previously been holding back.
Hot Shoe Shuffle began in Australia in 1992, was a big hit Down Under and again when it transferred to London. But efforts back then to duplicate that acceptance over here never succeeded. Nevertheless, after its acclaimed production of Crazy for You last season, the Wick went looking for another audience-pleasing tap-heavy show.
It not only grabbed the Shuffle for its season opener, but snagged a three-year option on the performance rights, hoping to tour the show around the country. That may not be the smartest business plan, however, unless it goes to towns that are very starved for entertainment.
Director Jonathan Van Dyke and choreographer Justin M. Lewis certainly have the dancers to steam up the Wick stage. Early on, there are glimmers of what they can do – tapping in unison atop a conference table and later a furious challenge tap which gives each of the seven brothers a chance to wow us with backflips, handstands and old-fashioned shuffle-ball-changes.
The brothers are named for tap moves – Spring (Sean McGibbon), Wing (Kurt Csolak), Buck (Thomas Sutter), Slide (Jared Alexander), Tip (Austin Carroll), Tap (Jonathan Eisele) and Slap (Michael M. Sakelos) – but only a few of them project personalities beyond the generic.
The cast is certainly full of terrific tappers, but the show really calls for triple threats and these guys – with a few exceptions – are just OK in their vocals and line deliveries. Few seem comfortable selling the dialogue in Larry Buttrose and Kathryn Riding’s script, which is full of groaner jokes.
High on the exceptions list is Sean McGibbon as Spring Tap, the group’s leader, who handles his solo on “Song and Dance Man” with ease and teams with Alex Kidder (April) nicely on the Gershwins’ “Shall We Dance?” Kidder gets a couple of vocal showcases (“How Lucky Can You Get,” “Birth of the Blues”) between the brothers’ Act Two tap flourishes. And by the finale, she demonstrates that she can more than keep up with the tap number she seemed to struggle with earlier. Also a standout is Rocky Duvall as rehearsal task master Max, who gets to strut his stuff on “Mood Indigo.”
Jason Tucker conducts a live and lively 10-piece Big Band, accompanying the cast on largely familiar tunes from the ’30s and ’40s, plus a couple of curiously anachronistic numbers culled from Minnie’s Boys and Funny Lady.
Jim Buff costumes the guys in giddily color-mismatched outfits early on, then switches to black-and-white formal wear for the second act. Similarly, Michael Versetti’s sets are rakishly askew in Act One, then gleaming white elegance for the Hot Shoe Shuffle segment. And resident projection designer Josieu T. Jean establishes the show’s period and the Tap family’s former acclaim with amusing faux-posters during the overture.
The production looks good and when it is tapping, the Wick’s enthusiasm for the material almost seems justified. But the show could use a few more energetic dance numbers, particularly in the ho-hum first act to really get it humming along.
HOT SHOE SHUFFLE, The Wick Theatre, 7901 North Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Through Sunday, Nov. 10. $75-$85. 561-995-2333 or visit thewick.org.