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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Hot Feet

Hot Feet
Ann Duquesnay and Vivian Nixon
Hot Feet, the Broadway-bound musical now trying out at Washington's National Theatre, has some very good aspects, specifically the striking choreography of Maurice Hines and solid performances by Ann Duquesnay and Keith David. However, the creative team might be well advised to scrub the labored and frequently incomprehensible book by MTV "scribe" Heru Ptah and just showcase the athletic, often breathtaking dances.

Hines, who is credited with "conceiving" the production and is also the director, worked closely on the show with Maurice White, founder and creator of the musical group Earth, Wind and Fire, who has used many of the band's hits and a few new character numbers. While their stated inspiration is Hans Christian Andersen's story "The Red Shoes," the finished production seems largely drawn from 42nd Street and Faust, with a sprinkling of A Chorus Line in a spirited audition sequence.

So, what is Hot Feet about? The viewer won't find many clues from the opening, when a sleek Latin crooner (Allen Hidalgo) displays an oversized pair of jeweled red shoes on a pedestal while intoning: "You can be a star, these shoes will take you far ... you don't miss a beat 'cause you've got hot feet." Soon he's swept away by a chorus dressed in swirling costumes in vivid colors (Paul Tazewell is the unfailingly creative costume designer), until a slender young woman in white appears. By this time, the dancers are wearing batik-patterned unitards and matching masks.

This Latin smoothie is named Louie, which turns out to be a nickname for - oh, let's not give it away. In a superfluous framing device, he tries to befriend a young girl (understudy Samantha Pollino) by telling her the story of the dancer in white, whose name is Kalimba (Vivian Nixon).

Kalimba is almost 18, daughter of a strict single mother (Duquesnay), and driven to dance. "You dance too fast, too hard, and too much," Mom tells her determined daughter in one of the many bits of moral wisdom sprinkled throughout the show. "There's more to life than ambition."

Although Kalimba arrives too late for her audition with the Serpentine Fire dance company, good-hearted choreographer Anthony (Michael Balderrama) sticks up for her with the company's autocratic head, suave Victor Serpentine (David). That scene, and Kalimba's run-in with reigning diva Naomi (Wynonna Smith), are lifted directly from 42nd Street, except for the hip-hop attitude.

The plot wanders in all sorts of directions in the second act, including a couple of jaw-dropping revelations and some truly painful dialogue. Through all of it, the production numbers dazzle with their physically demanding blend of ballet technique, hip-hop, and the street dance style called crunk.

In one aerobatically inspired number, the dancers wear silver mesh jumpsuits, hoods, and goggles. Others suggest kaleidoscopic patterns. The problem comes from when Hines gets down and dirty, as in a number with a group of women in black lace lingerie and a bare-chested man in white slacks; it goes beyond sexy into sleazy. In contrast, Balderrama, a more accomplished dancer than he is an actor, gets to perform a truly affecting solo to "After the Love Is Gone."

Duquesnay and David manage to bring conviction to their ridiculously overwrought roles, but Hidalgo isn't so lucky. Nixon holds the attention when she dances, but her acting skills are less polished.

The National Theatre
Hot Feet
March 21st - April 9th
Conceived by Maurice Hines
Book and Additional Lyrics by Heru Ptah
Music and Lyrics by Maurice White
Louie: Allen Hidalgo
Mom: Ann Duquesnay
Victor: Keith David
Anthony: Michael Balderrama
Emma: Sarah Livingston
Kalimba: Vivian Nixon
Naomi: Wynonna Smith
Ensemble: Kevin Aubin, Brent Carter, Gerrard Carter, Dionne Figgins, Ramon Flowers, Keith Anthony Fluitt, Karla Puno Garcia, Nakia Henry, Duane Lee Holland, Iquail S. Johnson, Dominique Kelley, Steve Konopelski, Sumie Maeda, Jon-Paul Mateo, Vasthy Mompoint, Tera-Lee Pollin, Samantha Pollino, Monique Smith, Daryl Spiers, Felicity Stiverson, Theresa Thomason, Hollie E. Wright
Directed and choreographed by Maurice Hines
The National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 1-800-447-7400 or www.telecharge.com


Photo: Paul Kolnik


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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