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Hot Feet
Interview with Ann Duquesnay

By Charles Battersby

Ann Duquesnay composed, wrote lyrics for and gave a Tony Award winning performance in Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk. This spring she'll be back on Broadway in Hot Feet, a new musical featuring music and lyrics by Maurice White and book by Heru Ptah. Between rehearsals for the current production in Washington DC, Ms. Duquesnay spoke with Talkin' Broadway's Charles Battersby about her new show.

Charles Battersby:  For those who haven't heard about Hot Feet yet, what can they expect?

Ann Duquesnay:  The people are in for a fantastic journey of dance and music. Maurice White, who was the founder of Earth Wind & Fire, wrote most of the music that we're doing, including six new songs for this production.

I play the mother of a young lady whose dream is to become a Broadway star. In this journey, she comes upon a person we might think of as the devil, who charms her into wearing these red shoes. The red shoes will determine her fate. I don't want to give it away, but it takes her on a journey of dance.

[My character] was a dancer at one time. I had challenges as a dancer that I don't want my daughter to go through. Yet I want her to fulfill her dream. I want her to go ahead, and then I don't. I'm trying to save her from everything that I went through. It takes off from there, and she finally gets into this dance company.

CB:  It's going to have a quick run out of town before going to Broadway, right?

DC:  We have one more week [of rehearsals] before we're off to DC at the National Theatre. We'll be there until March 21 through April 9th.

AD:  We're still making changes. Everyday there are new pages. The writers Heru Ptah and Maurice will see something and feel that it needs to be changed. So, I'm sure that when we get into production in DC, they will look at it and see what needs to be tweaked, before it comes to the great stage of Broadway.

CB:  Aside from the Earth Wind & Fire classics, there are six new songs.

AD:  There are a lot of numbers in this show that people will know and recognize immediately, particularly if they are Earth Wind & Fire fans. There's "Shinning Star" - you're familiar with that song?

CB:  Everybody's familiar with that one, I think.

AD:  That's the one that if you go to a concert and if you don't hear it, you're like "Oh please!"

There's "Shining Star," "September," "Boogie Wonderland" ... The new songs that Maurice has written, particularly mine, are of a different vein. Mine are ballads. One is a sorrowful ballad, the other is more of an upbeat ballad. It's not in the Earth Wind & Fire beat. You know?

CB:  It's not funky.

AD:  Exactly. What's wonderful is that it shows another side of what Maurice White is capable of writing. When you hear those Earth Wind & Fire songs - I enjoy just sitting there, when I'm not doing my stuff, just rocking to the music. I'll tell you something - all those years that I shook my hips to that music, and just really enjoyed Earth Wind & Fire ... to be sitting there next to Maurice White, and just chatting with him ... It's a real joy. I love going to rehearsal. I love watching the kids dance, I love watching the scenes. I think the public will be intrigued.

CB:  Earth Wind & Fire have come back into mainstream recently.

AD:  Every time I turn on the TV, there's Earth Wind & Fire. When I turn on the radio, it's Earth Wind & Fire appearing at this place, appearing at that place. And you have a whole other generation of people just becoming acquainted with this music. Earth Wind & Fire started in the early '70s and some of the dancers in the show are 19. They're too young to have known them back then, but now, here they are, grooving to this music. It's the kind of music that doesn't go out of style. It's just that kind of music.

CB:  Some people might think of this as another jukebox musical ...

AD:  They will, since there are so many of them out there, and since it pertains to a particular group. But there is a book and we're not just up there singing songs like in a concert. The new songs connect dialogue, and it has a lot to do with the scenes that are taking place. It's not "We're just going to stand up here and sing."

CB:  You've worked with some of this cast before, like Keith David in Jelly's Last Jam.

AD:  Sure did. It was a real pleasure. We were like family in that show.

CB:  And [Jelly's Last Jam star] Gregory Hines' little brother Maurice is directing Hot Feet.

AD:  This is my first time working with Maurice Hines - no, it's not. I sang at Gregory's memorial at the Apollo Theatre. That was my first time working with Maurice. I'm enjoying it now very much. It brings back memories of Gregory. Gregory was just a really fun guy to be around. He enjoyed his work. I myself have a passion for my work, and he had such passion for his work. If there was a mistake on stage, Gregory would take that mistake and turn it around into a very funny moment. He would ad lib it, and the audience would just go up, and we would be cracking up backstage. He had that quickness about him. He was a joy to work with.

CB:  And there's some up and coming talent in this cast, too.

AD:  I play the mother of Kalimba who's played by Vivian Nixon who, I'm sure you know, is Debbie Allen's daughter. She's wonderful. I love her dearly. She is just a lovely little spirit. And talented. When she dances - she's incredible. Everybody in the show, I think, is just unique in their own right.

You just wait. You're going to enjoy yourself. You can't be everything to everybody. But if we can get a larger percentage of the people, and if the critics like us, then we've accomplished our goal.

CB:  Is there anything else you want people to know about Hot Feet?

AD:  I believe that when the audience leaves the theatre, they are going to have hot feet. From tapping their feet on the floor to Earth Wind & Fire's music!

Hot Feet plays at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. March 21 - April 9. For more information, visit The show's Broadway run begins previews on April 15 at The Hilton Theatre.

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