nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
May 4, 2006
Sometimes a show cannot be defined or judged by any terms other than its own. Hot Feet, the new dance extravaganza set to the music of Earth Wind and Fire, is such a show. I wouldn’t say it’s particularly good or well done, but it is fun. I smiled all the way home after seeing it, and that’s the point. The art of showmanship is on full display, something that director-choreographer Maurice Hines knows a thing or two about. There are no deep meanings here, nor are the show’s creators trying to cure cancer. They just want to please the crowd, and make sure everyone has a good time. In that regard, Hot Feet delivers.
The story is a modern updating of "The Red Shoes." Kalimba is a high schooler with dreams of making it big as a dancer. Soon enough her ambition lands her a spot in the ensemble of the most prestigious dance company in town, much to the chagrin of her mother, who is suspicious of the company’s founder, Victor Serpertine. Rightfully so, it turns out. Victor owes the success of his company to his business partner, Louie (also known as Lucifer). Meanwhile, Kalimba faces the first adult challenges of her life: professional jealousy from the company’s resident diva, Naomi (also Victor’s girlfriend), and a budding romance with the choreographer, Anthony. It’s not long before Kalimba is starring in the company’s newest work, "Hot Feet." Little does she (or anyone else) know that there’s more to those red shoes she dances in than meets the eye…
Not that the story really matters. Hot Feet just uses it as a loose structure to justify what it’s truly about: the jubilation of dancing. Equal parts Broadway musical, dance recital, and Vegas floorshow, Hot Feet is armed with a battalion of talented theatre gypsies who know how to talk with their bodies. Hines puts them through their paces to form one of the hardest-working ensembles in town right now: they run through dozens of costume changes, entrances, and exits with a speed and facility that is amazing. The choreography is not particularly inventive, but it is rousing (again, crowd-pleasing by design), and the company knows how to execute it so as to elicit the desired response. (The production, as a whole, would benefit greatly if the ensemble would dance together—and in time with the music—more often. Their sloppiness in this regard may prove distracting to some, but the exuberance emanating from the stage helped me ignore it, for the most part.)
Then there’s the music, which is sublime. The Earth Wind and Fire catalogue is one of the premiere pop music songbooks of the 1970s, comparable to other R & B and funk giants of that era, like Stevie Wonder and Parliament / Funkadelic. Music director Jeffrey Klitz and orchestrator Bill Meyers do the right thing by staying true to the songs and not trying to "Broadway" them up in any way. Three offstage vocalists—Brent Carter, Keith Anthony Fluitt, and Theresa Thomason—handle the majority of the singing (a choice that thankfully frees the dancers from having to do so while performing some breath-defying moves), and they couldn’t be better. At several times during the evening, I could’ve sworn it was actually Earth Wind and Fire themselves in the pit, playing like there was no tomorrow. The singers and the orchestra are that good. They are the show’s true stars.
There’s still plenty happening on stage, however. Broadway veteran Ann Duquesnay, cutting an imposing figure as Kalimba’s mother, belts her heart out convincingly. Wynonna Smith gets the crowd charged up as the scene-stealing comic relief, Naomi. It’s always a pleasure to see the terrific Keith David on stage, and there may be no funnier (or more charming) moment in Hot Feet than when he puts on the Barry White love moves and croons his way through "Can’t Hide Love." And, making her Broadway debut as Kalimba, the loose-limbed Vivian Nixon proves to be a beautiful and fiery dancer, and a likable actress.
Whatever shortcomings Hot Feet may have, by the time the show reaches its sing-along curtain call finale—the classic funk workout "Shining Star"—it’s not hard to feel as if the evening has been well-spent. You can’t quibble with a show like that, can you?