- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 30, 2006

“Hot Feet,” the Broadway-bound Maurice Hines musical, is an over-produced, over-miked $8 million production jammed with soul-jazz-African-funky rhythms by Maurice White (including some of his old Earth, Wind and Fire hits).

It’s a heartless tale of an ill-fated heroine, Kalimba, played by Vivian Nixon. The youthful Miss Nixon is appealing, with a serviceable technique and a radiant smile, but the character she plays is shallow, rather cruel and inherently self-serving. (The dancer-singer-actress is the daughter of Debbie Allen and trained here for three years at the Kirov Ballet Academy.)

It’s hard to care about the fate of someone who claims to live only to dance but is willing to jettison everything else in that pursuit. Along the way Kalimba wounds her long suffering Mama, walks out on a tender love affair, is cruel to an aging dancer she has bested and panders to a lecherous producer all to star in a S&M; musical.

The plot line borrows heavily from Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of “The Red Shoes” and its retelling in the eponymously named movie. It also recalls “Afternoon of a Faun,” when the lecherous producer buries his face in the scent of Kalimba’s scarf. The ending gives a pat twist to the plot, straining credulity even for a fairy tale featuring dialogue filled with rap lyrics by first-time playwright Heru Ptah.

The Faust legend also runs through the story, with the producer (Keith David) selling his soul to a fast-talking devil (played with humorous panache by Allen Hidalgo), and Kalimba voluntarily selling her soul for success while wearing the symbol of the devil’s triumph — what else? — glittering red shoes.

Most of the players are stock characters or caricatures, but Ann Duquesnay as Kalimba’s Mom brought pathos to her role, especially in her final song, Wynonna Smith hits her groove halfway through the evening as the past-her-prime rival, and Michael Balderrama managed to make his role of the choreographer-boyfriend of Kalimba into a rare heartfelt moment.

There is something basically voyeuristic in the show’s premise. When the heroine achieves her tawdry triumph in a vaguely pornographic number, we’re set up to realize the error of her choice, but first we’re supposed to revel in the dance she’s doing.

Another troubling message was that the journeymen corps, dancing its heart out, was not quite good enough, but Kalimba, who arrives with her ballet moves, is somehow above them all. Eventually she’s co-opted into their way of moving after all.

As part of his plan for his new protege, Kalimba, the producer says he will make her the new Judith Jamison. If that is supposed to suggest hubris it certainly does, but unfortunately it also conjures up the heroic image of Miss Jamison in a great role like “Cry,” to the decided detriment of the pedestrian “Hot Feet.”

There are more numbers than one could count and more over-the-top costumes, ranging from colorful street clothes in oranges and greens, to figures out of a space movie, to suggestive strip-tease-looking outfits — and lots of bare chests and bouncing buns displayed by the men.

The hardworking corps of around 18 is a wonderfully heterogeneous group, their variety resembling an interesting mix plucked from an urban street. The scene backstage as they raced from one revealing costume to the next must have been a madhouse.

At the end the devil offers the enticing red shoes to Emma, a talented little muppet of a dancer (Samantha Pollino, age 11) who listens to his offer of success and the cost it entails — and turns him down flat. She’s the evening’s true heroine.

*1/2

WHAT: “Hot Feet,” a new musical

WHEN: Tonight through April 9 at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8, Sundays at 2 and 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: National Theatre

TICKETS: $41.25 to $81.25

PHONE: 1-800-447-7400

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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