Those Magical Red Sneaks was a game production by a newcomer to Off-Off-Broadway, held back by a weak book and a commitment to casting much younger than type. These cavils aside, it was energetic and at times colorful, and showed a generally bubbly esprit de corps.
In Hans Christian Andersen's story, an orphan girl makes the mistake of wearing her new red shoes to church and is cursed by an old, crippled soldier. The shoes take on a life of their own and make her dance, even when she doesn't want to. She is reduced to asking the executioner to cut off her feet. She eventually repents her pride, dies, and goes to Heaven -- the only way she can get away from those horrible red shoes.
In Those Magical Red Sneaks, two homeless brothers, Rocco and Ralph Fridley (Selby Brown and Walter Ashbrook), find a pair of magical red sneakers that, when activated by a particular cell phone, endow their wearer with magical dancing powers. Rocco decides to find a young woman and make her into a fabulous dancer, so he can be her talent agent and escape from Brooklyn. Ralph reluctantly goes along with the plan. Once the shoes are on Karen Jorgenson (Amy Kersten)'s feet, Rocco has her under his control and makes her into a dancer. Inexplicably, he spirits her away to a circus in Hoboken, where he keeps her in the former Fat Lady's trailer, dancing in the freak show. She is rescued by Ralph, who takes control of the magical cell phone and frees her. (Many other twists and turns occur in the story, mostly to move things along when the action bogs down. For example, Karen's grandmother -- Karen is an orphan -- moves in next door to her; the two are reunited in act one, though the grandmother -- Auri Marcus -- doesn't play much of a role in the rest of the play.) Every step of the way, dialog is expended on explaining the moves of the plot, a practice that sucked the energy out of the proceedings. (Andersen's story has a grim arbitrariness about it that makes it downright scary. Not for today's kids!)
Casting a grandmother of the same general age as her supposed grandchild was also problematic. Whether aging the actress would have helped is doubtful, since she didn't act old at all (though she had a strong voice and conveyed a hearty sense of goodwill appropriate to the character). The only halfway-age-appropriate casting was of the brothers and Karen, all of whom acted naturally and with a certain ease, and Belinda Wilson, as Madame Ribaldo of the circus, who acted with a certain florid overstatement perhaps appropriate to her character. In one colorful scene, the chorus, all high-school age or younger, turned into circus performers for the circus parade, though they were less successful in scenes with much dialog.
The direction was far from tight, sometimes involving deliberate upstaging by the ensemble when the audience should be concentrating on a scene between principals. While Karen showed skill as a dancer, the choreography (Jennifer Farber) showed little variety or expressiveness. The scenery comprised some reversible flats covered on one side by gray foam and sparkles, representing a city skyline, and on the other with hallucinogenic wallpaper, apparently representing a circus tent, together with a white trellis archway of unclear purpose. The costumes were often colorful when needed, though the brothers Fridley certainly didn't look homeless in the first scene. (Sets and costumes, B. Michael Quale.) The lighting (technical director Duane Anderson), which used far too few instruments for the wide stage, had no general wash, and scenes were often played under single instruments. The out-of-tune piano was a handicap for the pleasant tunes and lyrics. (Also featuring Chanelle Wilson, Nicole Blair, Carina Episcopio, Charis Wilson, Arian DiLorenzo, and Kendric Herd.)
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Copyright 2002 John Chatterton