THEATRE / In the family way: Paul Taylor on the Australian big band musical Hot Shoe Shuffle at the Queen's Theatre in London

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The Independent Culture
For the entire first half of Hot Shoe Shuffle, the eight alleged siblings who tap their way through this Australian import seem to constitute the cleverest advertisement for rigorous family planning since, ooh, the Osmonds. They also appear to be offering a glum update on the evolution of the tap dancer: from the tapper as sexless, debonair gent (Astaire), via red-blooded he-man (Gene Kelly) to the tapper as sweating yobbie goofball.

It doesn't help that, before the interval, the seven dancing brothers and lone sister are stuck in a plot whose preposterousness would be hard to bear even if the jokes worked. We're invited to believe that their estranged vaudevillian father dies, leaving them a huge fortune on the condition that all eight of them collaborate in an exact re-creation of his fiendishly difficult old routines. His will reunites the boys with their long-lost sister April (Rhonda Burchmore), a girl whose unending legs make Cyd Charisse look like an amputee and whose IQ leads you to feel that Ruby Keeler was a misunderstood genius.

The show labours some predictable gags based on the difference in scale between April and her pint-sized twin, Spring (David Atkins, who also directs and co-choreographs), and there's some uninspired slapstick courtesy of April's klutzy inexperience on the dance floor - in her early shots at a tap routine, she resembles a newly born giraffe endeavouring to get its balance.

But the wit, whether verbal ('I hope you don't mind me being late, Spring' - 'Oh, late spring, ha . . .') or visual (as in the brothers' charm-free dance of swaying drunkenness), leaves a lot to be desired (wit, among other things) and, if I hadn't been there on business, at half-time I'd have made a mercy dash for the exit.

Which would have been my loss, for Part 2, which abandons all pretence at plot and shifts to a glamorous night-club venue, gives you in spades what you go to a show like this for: the sheer lift of those moments when the hailstorm detonations of tap seem to pour down in a bewildering cascade from the whole body of the dancer. This was particularly the case with Dein Perry. When he did his feet-chattering-on-the-spot routine, the exercise intensified to the point where you wondered whether he was attempting to drill his way back to Australia.

The second half is itself not without blemishes. Rhonda Burchmore has a pleasing, if heavily miked, singing voice and, with an impossibly long train of sequinned chiffon slinking in her wake as she descends the neon-fringed staircase, she certainly can't be accused of underselling the raunchiness of 'The Birth of the Blues'. But it really is a mistake for her to take on a number like 'How Lucky Can You Get?' and attempt to do the whole mid-song switch to snarling, embittered irony which Streisand patented electrifyingly when she performed it in Funny Lady. Peering through my fingers at Burchmore's travesty version, I couldn't help wondering why, when giving vent to the acrid second half, she felt the need to confront us with such a fundamentally friendly grin.

As a finale, the boys efficiently whip the audience to frenzy by affecting to finish and then responding to calls to perform their last routine ever faster. Since this is performed on the tricky letter shapes (all narrow surfaces and declivities) of a sort of rostrum, the accuracy and rapidity are indeed wondrous to behold, the dips even giving a comically Cossack look to part of the dance. A strangely uneven show, then: the cat's meow preceded by something the cat dragged in.

Queen's Theatre, W1 (071-494 5040)

(Photograph omitted)

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