Review: Hot Shoe Shuffle, Bryan Brown Theatre, Bankstown

“I just know things are going to work out!” says April, the newly discovered sister of the seven Tap Brothers. And of course it does—but not without hard work, practice, and sweat.

Hot Shoe Shuffle tells one of those artificial, improbable stories that are typical of musicals, but the show, the first production by Bankstown-based Birdie Productions, really does work out well.

The Hot Shoe Shuffle cast. Photo by Grant Leslie, Perfect Images
The Hot Shoe Shuffle cast. Photo by Grant Leslie, Perfect Images

Sure, the first night had its share of technical glitches—and in the intimate space of the Bryan Brown Theatre, they were probably more noticeable than in a larger venue. But being so close to the cast also has the positive effect of showing the audience just how much hard work, practice and sweat this cast threw into their performances.

The interaction becomes very personal in a way not possible in a larger theatre. So, after the closing number on opening night, the audience rose for the standing ovation, acknowledging not just enjoyment—because it really is an entertaining show—but also a sense of personal gratitude: Thank you, you worked so hard, just for us.

Luke Alleva, as Spring, the eldest Tap brother, is a natural performer. His charismatic, often cheeky stage presence make him a convincing leader of the pack. His driving energy sets a cracking pace that his tap-dancing brothers ably met.

These brothers have wacky dance-related names like … umm … Tap (Pauly Maybury), Tip (Jonathan Nash Daly), Buck (Sam Boesen), Wing (Sezgin Aygun), Slide (Louis Vinciguerra) and Slap (Jay Johns). Most have strong performing backgrounds, including experience with So You Think You Can Dance (Johns) and Disney companies (both Daly and Maybury). Aygun and Vinciguerra, in their first big production, fit right in, which is a credit to them—and, I think, the rest of the cast.

Each has his own stage personality, although my overall impression is a blur of big grins and frenetic movement. Not all are completely comfortable in their characters, but then that’s not as important as the high caliber of their dancing and singing.

Erin Bruce as April is an absolute delight. At first, this Tap “sister” is an uncoordinated dancer. In fact, her awkwardness makes Spring suspect she really isn’t a true sister at all and, while the other brothers embrace her, he is antagonistic.

Daryl Somers (Max), Erin Bruce (April) and Luke Alleva (Spring), Birdie Productions Hot Shoe Shuffle.  Photo Grant Leslie, Perfect Images.
Daryl Somers (Max), Erin Bruce (April) and Luke Alleva (Spring), Birdie Productions Hot Shoe Shuffle.
Photo Grant Leslie, Perfect Images.

But, eventually, she finds her dancing mojo and—no surprise here—she finds love as well. Along the way, her character morphs from appealing ingénue to seductive red-frocked songstress. Even her voice changes, with a lower, bluesy, growly register for the finale. And while her mobile facial expressions in the early scenes are sheer fun—and matched by Alleva’s humorous raised eyebrows, scowls and pouts—her rendition of “I Get along without You” is heartbreakingly beautiful.

Daryl Somers, as Max—the so-called “old friend” of the Tap Brothers’ father—contributes a great sense of warmth. I certainly had no idea that he could sing so well. He clearly enjoys himself, and the moments when he really lets go are truly powerful, which suggests he could possibly play his character even bigger and brasher; after all, Max early on declares that he is “the voice of God”. Nevertheless, he deserves a medal simply for dancing in public with these polished professionals.

Liam O’Keefe has beautifully lit the production, and Jenna Bell’s costumes contribute to the overall luxe visual style. Luke Alleva looks as great in a boater and striped vest for “Song and Dance Man” as he does in his fedora or in top hat and tails. Erin Bruce’s bias-cut peach satin dress for “How Lucky Can You Get?” is totally old-school Hollywood glamour. There is great attention to detail too. When April’s skirt flies up as she twirls, it reveals old-style satin knickers and stockings—not modern-day pantyhose.

Ash Bell’s sets, too, are good looking but the method of changing scenes with the lights off seemed a bit clunky and intrusive (I kept thinking about how hard the stage hands had to work). Possibly the darkened theatre during those moments is just too much of a contrast to the otherwise continuous high-energy action.

However, the big stage transformation for the final “Hot Shoe Shuffle” section—when the orchestra is revealed behind the front-of-stage area where all the action takes place—well, that is a grand moment. Suddenly we see the musicians and conductor who had been making all that great music. Revealed too is that great, beautiful, beloved tradition of musicals: the big white staircase, so useful for tapping up and tapping down.

So, as Max says: “Everyone can have talent, but an artist sweats and sweats and sweats.” No doubt the unseen Birdie Productions crew sweated with anxiety as they presented their first production. That enthusiastic standing ovation tells them, yes, things really did work out, just as April says.

Jeannette Delamoir

An ex-Queenslander and former academic, Jeannette has also managed a three-screen arthouse cinema in upstate New York, sold theatre tickets in London, and baked brownies at a cafe called Sweet Stuff.

Jeannette Delamoir

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