DO BLACK PATENT LEATHER SHOES REALLY REFLECT UP? opened Friday night at Spotliters in Mantua, NJ with a glimpse into the age old tradition of Catholic education. In the style of NUNSENSE and SISTER ACT, PATENT LEATHER SHOES pokes fun at nuns and the rigid rules of 1950s Catholicism.
Though it enjoyed a few good out of town runs in Philadelphia and Chicago, DO BLACK PATENT LEATHER SHOES REALLY REFLECT UP only survived 5 performances before it closed on Broadway in 1982. Despite its shortcomings as an outdated production, the show has potential in a few cute musical numbers and some humor about coming of age that we can all relate to.
PATENT LEATHER SHOES follows a group of eight Catholic students from 2nd grade through HS graduation and explores the many rites of passage such as “the age of reason”, confession, patron saints, dating and sex education. The students are played by the same actors throughout the show. One of the shining moments occurs in the opening scene with the students in 2nd grade; the cast did a beautiful job of catching the silliness and innocence of youth.
The characters are mostly defined as one-dimensional caricatures including the fat girl, shy boy, pervert, tom boy and others. Amy Tarr captured the essence of the goody-two-shoe character Mary splendidly, while Jonathan Greenstein was the quintessential class clown, Louie. The story skips quickly through elementary school and the transitions through the grades are difficult until the first act culminates with 8th grade graduation. The second act focuses on high school, dating and sex education. The humor is the star of the show: the authors poke fun at the disturbing and very conservative ideas of sex education. The girls are taught never to go too far, but not what “too far” actually means.
The cast did a good job with the solo performances yet the standout number was real-life husband and wife Joshua and Chelsea Hanke’s performance of “Mad Bombers and Prom Queens”. Tommy Balne did a fabulous job both vocally and dramatically with his portrayal of the shy boy in love with the chubby girl. Balne has a beautiful tone and quality to his voice that is like listening to an angel sing. The ensemble had trouble at times with pitch and poor harmonies but delivered an enjoyable performance. Kudos to Spotliters for utilizing a live five piece paid orchestra whose instruments were a bit off key but the effect on the play was very impressive.
Though the play fell a bit short musically, the effort by the Spotliters on such a difficult score is praiseworthy.
DO PATENT LEATHER SHOES REALLY REFLECT UP?
Book by John R. Powers
Music and Lyrics by James Quinn and Alaric Jans
Based on the Novel by John R. Powers
Directed by Jeanne Gold
Musical Direction by Deborah Bergen
May 3-12, 2013
201 Mantua Boulevard
Behind the United Methodist Church
Mantua, NJ 08051