Broadway has undergone a major sea change in the last half-decade. The jukebox musical shows whose books derive to fit around a certain artists songs, a la ABBA in Mamma Mia -- has become its most commercial asset. Broadway has often lifted its offerings from other sources, ranging from literature (Cats, Show Boat) to film (Hairspray, The Wedding Singer), but usually, the songs fit around the plot, some perhaps shoehorned in, but worked around story nonetheless.
The times, they have a-changed, and Hot Feet, conceived, choreographed and directed by performer Maurice Hines, fashions its plot around the music of Earth, Wind and Fire. This is great news for the band, whose range and hooks remain unparalleled more than a quarter-century since their debut. (Numbers include "After the Love Has Gone", "September," and "Shining Star.") But is this healthy for Broadway?
Yes and no. Yes, because any show as ebullient and beautiful to look at as Feet will draw audiences back for more theatergoing. And no, because it perpetuates the cycle of recycling. Rather than fashion a new plot for Feet, Hines updates the influential Red Shoes, finding Vivian Nixon as teen dancer Kalimba (an instrument used by Earth, Wind and Fire) joining her town's most famous dance company, named for boss Victor Serpentine (Keith David). When her mother (Tony-winner Ann Duquesnay) relents and lets her join (all in one particularly wince-worthy moment, saying nothing more than "You can't fight fate"), Kalimba finds herself in an All About Eve-ish battle against the current star, Naomi (Wynonna Smith).
But Kalimba has greater battles to fight, as Serpentine's success comes from a Mephistophelian deal: her ruby dance slippers actually bear the sign of the devil, and when she dances, her life hangs in the balance.
Melodramatic and slim, Feet could never advertise its story as a selling point, but it doesn't have to. Hines' choreography, with the aid of Paul Tazewell's costumes and Clifton Taylor's lighting design, is a sight to behold. This is a show that remains visually arresting from start to finish. And the entire company comes chockablock with outstanding dancers bringing every song to life.
Nixon, particularly, is a marvel on the dance floor. Smith, too demonstrates considerable chops, while Duquesnay is underutilized in her role I could have seen her sing and dance a few more times. But the real star is the music. Bill Meyers' orchestrations perfectly recreate the catalogue of Earth, Wind and Fire, and give the audience something to sing about long after leaving the theatre.