Comfortable Shoes closes after a brief run

Comfortable Shoes closes after a brief run

By Edith McCauley, Theater Critic

Comfortable Shoes closes this weekend after only a five-week run. The musical has all the requisites for success: a great score, talented musicians, a top-notch cast and an intriguing storyline. Its downfall can only be attributed to poor publicity. After several articles in Chicago papers, Comfortable Shoes seemed to disappear, a most puzzling conundrum.

Clint Holmes, whose life story is the basis for this production, currently stars in Las Vegas. Born in England, he is the son of an African-American jazz singer and a British opera singer. It traces his life from the beginning. Stanley White is “Eddie”, an American soldier who meets his love, “Audrey”, played by Carol Kuykendall, while on duty in England. Coming to the United States as a bi-racial couple, they encounter undreamed-of problems. Moving from the projects in Buffalo to a country home, they find prejudice exists everywhere. Their son, “Clay”, played by an exceptional young actor and singer, Justin Reynolds, blithely becomes part of his community in spite of racial slurs. A disastrous prom night, an experience as the token African-American in an army chorus, and the mixed expectations of his parents are steps toward his acceptance of his identity and the ability to be “comfortable in his own shoes.”

Christopher Neal Jackson plays Clay. A native of Cairo, Ill., his most recent role was that of “Simba” in the Broadway production of The Lion King. Personable, attractive and a terrific singer, he plays Clay perfectly. From his opening number, “Who Am I,” to his touching duet with Shane Williams, who plays Brenda, the woman whose love is essential to Clay’s becoming a successful performer and a human being at ease with himself, Jackson centers a highly entertaining musical story.

The strength of the supporting cast contributes to the overall quality of the production. E. Faye Butler in a variety of roles, from Brenda’s snazzy mother to M’tumbe, a Hollywood executive with attitude, delivers professionally as always. Alan Ball’s Bernie, the agent we never want to encounter, provides a bit of ethnic humor, and Gordon McClure’s ability to play half a dozen different characters is evidence of his many years in theater.

The music orchestrations, and vocal arrangements by Nelson Kole, make Comfortable Shoes a musical that surpasses many that I have seen on Broadway. A variety of genres in music has become a pattern for many successful productions. Too often expected, it can be a bit boring. In this show it works. The historical perspective makes sense, as Clay encounters jazz, the music of Motown, and an African-American spiritual. E Faye’s “M’tumbe’s Song” is the perfect vehicle for her.

The musicians, many of whom played the score for last year’s Could It Be Magic?, included Felton Offard, a Freeport native. They may be performing in Rockford next summer as a part of an African-American Woman’s festival. The kick-off event is being arranged by Dorothy Paige-Turner and will be hosted by E. Faye Butler.

That such a fine production closes because so few people knew about it, shows a lack of planning. In this day and age, publicity is essential. Hopefully, Comfortable Shoes can be resurrected.

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