HOUSTON -- A musical isn't kid's stuff. Just ask David Goldsmith, the lyricist for Hot Shoe Shuffle, a new song-and-dance show -- emphasis on the fancy footwork -- world premiering in Houston, under the auspices of Theater Under The Stars, Mar. 7 and running through Mar. 22. Prior to Hot Shoe Shuffle, Goldsmith's most significant accomplishment had been writing the lyrics for the recent animated movie A Christmas Carol starring the vocal talents of Whoopi Goldberg and Tim Curry. With Hot Shoe Shuffle, out goes the kid's play.
And in comes dancing fools, if you will. In what's being billed as "Crocodile Dundee meets 42nd Street," seven tap-dancing brothers from Down Under learn about love and family as they search for fame and fortune, first in Australia then on Broadway, in the 1940s. Australian superstar David Atkins directs and choreographs and is credited as the main conceiver. The composer is Megan Cavallari, the book writer is David Hahn.
In its first incarnation in 1992 in Australia, Hot Shoe Shuffle was little more than a revue, an "excuse" by Atkins for hoofing. The crowd-pleaser toured New Zealand, Japan, and England, where it won an Olivier Award for choreography. This new Hot Shoe Shuffle has been reconstituted for American sensibilities; additional creators have been added, most specifically Goldsmith, Cavallari, and Hahn, and others deleted, as the project began to be reshaped into its current, more standard musical-theater form.
How difficult is it to write lyrics for a show about legwork most of all, where choreography "competes" with all else? "We all understand the priorities," Goldsmith said. "This is a musical, a dancing musical. But the show needs to strike a balance nevertheless. We're taking the standard form of a bunch of dancers on stage but very subtly making the characters really clear and what their foibles are. We're adding shading and depth to the visceral experience of dance. By doing so, the experience should be that much more visceral."
The score for the first Hot Shoe Shuffle was entirely source music by the Gershwins, Hoagy Carmichael, Irving Berlin, and other American icons. The show now is about 80% original songs (such Big-Band standards as "Puttin' on the Ritz" and "Pennsylvania 6-500" still constitute the finale, a 30-minute, non-stop tap-marathon called "The Act"). "In the initial Hot Shoe Shuffle old songs were shoehorned into the story; now the songs are tailor-made. What we've done serves the story, the characters, the themes, not the other way around." Goldsmith continued: "We're trying to keep the score freely in time. It's not necessarily nostalgic. It takes place from the vantage point of looking back at it with affection. It pays homage."
Goldsmith isn't overly concerned with having to write as nimbly as Jerome Kern, Fats Waller and the like, that his lyrics won't compare. "This show is traditional musical theater, with a throwback to an earlier era in its style and tone. I don't traffic in anachronism."
What Goldsmith does traffic in, however, is tourism. The first Hot Shoe Shuffle was about American tap-dancing brothers who go abroad; the current revision inverses this, laddies from the outback winding up on Broadway. Accordingly, Goldsmith ventured to Australia to do some fieldwork, since local flavor is a backbone to the action. "Hot Shoe Shuffle adds a wonderful color never seen before on Broadway: Australian anthems and Australian optimism. There's a certain laissez-faire character to the people, a calmness about them.
"I truly believe that this has led to a lot of freedom for me and my partners. I never felt under the yolk of the impression of the first Hot Shoe Shuffle. David Atkins has taken his ego out of it and let go of the past."
This freedom to create is surely serving Goldsmith well: he currently has projects in development at many of the major American film and television studios.
Hot Shoe Shuffle runs March 7-22 at the Music Hall in Houston. For tickets, $15 - $48, call 1-800-678-5440. It then travels to The 5th Avenue Musical Theatre Company in Seattle and the Ordway Music Theatre in St. Paul. The three theaters have formed The New Musicals Studio/USA, a creative partnership whose mandate is fostering original musicals. With a combined subscription of more than 85,000 theatergoers, the consortium asserts that it's the largest non-profit producer of new musicals in America.
-- By Peter Szatmary