This show, Shoes, really is most edifying and enjoyable, and far better than most of the simpering little musical romantic comedies around the place. It has cheek, it has vision, it has witty and satirical intent, and it has brand names and glitter and spandex, and brilliant choreography.
I was never a great fan of Jerry Springer: The Opera by Richard Thomas (except for the first half) but Shoes shows development and sheer barefoot (and barefaced) cheek that bodes well.
And any musical that involves big beach balls, corsets and helmets, a crowd of nuns hymning Jimmy Choo, and a climactic philosophical statement that “Time Wounds All Heels,” is perfectly fine with me. For heaven’s sake, when did you last see anything in the theatre that was remotely camp or kinky about how we dress, or shop, or pull on our boots?
Stephen Mear is the director and choreographer, and he’s mixed a fine brew of singers and dancers to tell the history of shoes with reference to cavemen and cloggers, leather freaks and sneaker addicts, with a good band chipping in from an upper level onstage. Tom Pye is the set designer, providing a stage high stiletto that sets the toe, and the tone.
This is the nearest we’ve come to any kind of follow-up to Kenneth Tynan’s Oh! Calcutta! and Carte Blanche, a hetero-homosexual hothouse of foot and flip-flop fantasia that also includes some really brilliant set pieces: in a wedding frame sequence of various disasters; in the sudden outbreak of tap dance among the platform heels; and in a wittily written tribute to main foot-man Salvatore Ferragamo.
There are clever references to the Cinderella story, talent show competitions (as in “Violently Come Dancing”) and the history of dance shows from Gene Kelly to A Chorus Line. There are some terrific dancers, from the devastating big-stride, muscular sexpots Alexis Owen Hobbs and Lorraine Stewart, to the more insinuating but equally technically gifted Jack Wilcox, Chloe Campbell and Jay Wilson.
Great singing, too – though the amplification needs attention – from Gemma O'Duffy, Jennifer Peers, Tim Howar and Damien Humbley. It’s not the best musical dance show you’ve ever seen, but it’s fresh, it’s different and it’s endlessly inventive and staged with real flair and pizazz. And it’s very funny.