The idea, from writer and composer Richard Thomas, was to create a song-and-dance show about shoes. It’s a simple one, but rich in theatrical, visual and choregraphic possibilities.
A large creative team made it reality: as well as Thomas (best known as the composer of Jerry Springer: the Opera) it included West End choreographer Stephen Mear; Kate Prince, creator of hip-hop musical Into the Hoods; contemporary dance wunderkind Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui; Aletta Collins, who works in dance, opera and theatre, and deaf dance-maker Mark Smith, who experiments with sign language.
Putting such diverse talent together might seem excessive, but it also screams “crossover appeal”. Add in dancers from TV’s So You Think You Can Dance, and you get artistic kudos gift-wrapped in a shiny commercial package.
That’s on paper. On stage, it’s much the same – it hasn’t quite come off the page. It looks impressive: a huge, multilevel set has the band sitting atop a giant stiletto (entrances are sometimes made by sliding down its insole). There are clever video projections, from disembodied dancing shoes to psychedelic disco glitter. The show is a sequence of self-contained numbers, with interludes featuring brief comedy songs, or solo dancers moving awkwardly in outsize footwear – flippers, clown shoes, skis.
Some numbers hit the spot. A stage full of nuns sing what sounds like a Latin mass, but the words are “Manolo Blahnik” and “Jimmy Choo”. A group of dancers undergo health and safety training in how to wear high heels (they need helmets) and end up like upturned beetles, stilettos waving in the air. One blackly comic scene relates the story of the curse of family shoes, as a posed wedding portrait gives way to mordant snapshots of transvestism, paralysis and misplaced paternity.
There’s plenty of wit in the words – “time wounds all heels”, and the Imelda Marcos song is hilarious. But between the high points, the show wades through stretches of light entertainment in flip-flops, sparkly platforms, or Ugg boots. There’s irony and affection for the fetishism and the fashion faux pas, but the kicks scarcely leave a mark. Nor is there a musical number featuring children in a sweatshop – for a show about shoes that’s just a missed opportunity. It’s disappointing, too, that while shoes are always a reference, they’re hardly explored as choreographic material, which means they often feel just like what they are: accessories. Buy this by all means, just don’t be surprised if you feel unfulfilled.