Top tap talents

Hot Shoe Shuffle (Savoyards)

Wynnum State High School, Star Theatre

June 19 – July 3

If The Wiggles were tap dancers they might get confused with the cast of “Hot Shoe Shuffle” as the 1992 Australian jukebox musical begins with introduction to its feature of a few more Principal players, the seven Tap brothers, dressed in bold suits of block primary colours. It’s an introduction befitting the sensibility of the light-hearted crowd pleaser and one that fits with the staging of Savoyard’s production, which sees Wynnum State High School’s Star Theatre staged with animation style set pieces, with each corner and angle outlined by a thin black line to gift the effect of being in a cartoon.

The flimsy storyline tells of dancing brothers who are all named after tap moves: Spring (Reindert Toia), Slap (Andrew King), Buck (Clay English), Wing (Stewart Matthews), Tip (Simon Battersby), Tap (Michael Effenberger) and Slide (Chris Jordan), being told that they will obtain a significant inheritance from their late and long-absent father if they can reproduce his legendary act, “The Hot Shoe Shuffle”. Trouble arises when producer of sorts Max (Rob Emblen) reveals that they must also include their long-lost and quie outgoing sister, April (Natalie Lennox) in the act.

Light-weight as its story may be, however, David Atkins’ “Hot Shoe Shuffle” is an ambitious choice of show; the fast-paced musical requires a supremely talented cast and musical band, and in this regard, the production, presented in partnership with Bloch Australia, delivers in abundance, making for a toe-tapping good time for all. It really is all about the dancing, which includes incorporation of tricks with hats and canes, occasional slapstick and always-crisp footwork, from the after-overture opening number, Duke Ellington’s ‘The Rug Cutter’, in which the brothers tap in unison atop a large lawyer’s office table. It is not all big, bold numbers, however. Light and shade are afforded through Lennox’s ‘I Get Along Without You Very Well’ and her charming song and dance routine with Toia in ‘Shall We Dance’. And when they are joined by Emblen in ‘Name Up In Lights’, it is a joyful prelude to the showcase numbers that follow. Indeed, the nimble Emblen is a joy to behold whenever his feet fly across the stage. Not only is an accomplished dancer, but, along with Desney Toia-Sinapati, responsible for the show’s classic, high-energy choreography.

With no dedicated music score of its own, “Hot Shoe Shuffle” draws its setlist from a variety of sources all of which serve to showcase its dancing. Familiar big band songs from the ’20s to ’40s of the ‘In The Mood’ sort feature throughout and it is wonderful to see the band showcased on stage, especially during the show-within-the-show that occupies most of the second half. The highlight comes, however, as part of Act One’s ‘Fats Waller Medley’ in which ‘This Joint is Jumpin’ is enlivened with infectious brassy New Orleans jazz sounds to accompany the brothers’ mimed instrument playing.

The melodies of group numbers are often highlighted by beautifully-blended vocals, although occasionally, the combined sounds of all brothers tapping together wash over the top of vocals. Toia’s smooth voice is appropriately showcased in jaded eldest brother Spring’s soft shoe number ‘Song and Dance Man’ and while all performers have their moments, Chris Jordan, as the good humoured Slide is particularly impressive in a spinning Act Two solo.

There is a clear camaraderie amongst the cast, particularly the seven brothers, which accommodates the show’s easy humour of puns and lame pick-up lines, and also musical references of the ‘One The Town’ and Cole Porter sort. Similarly, Lennox’s embrace of the difficulty of April’s initial uncoordinated dance attempts is a key component, adding much to the show’s humour. And while the brothers are ‘Putting on the Ritz’ of their Act Two show in dapper suit and tails, Kim Heslewood’s versatile costume design allows Lennox to quick change without any compromise to the razzle dazzle of the showcase.

“Hot Shoe Shuffle” is a fan-tap-stic show and it is easy to appreciate its smash hit status across Australia and on London’s West End given its escapist whimsy and enormous energy (especially in latter numbers). The fact that it does not take itself too seriously, makes for an easy watch that you don’t have to think too much about, lest you might get caught up in its plot holes. If you like tap, even just a little bit, you must join in Savoyards 60th year celebrations and see this good old fashioned musical.

Photos c/o – Sharyn Hall