Starting Much Too Late
Do Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up? Directed by Joe Leonardo At the Wilbur Theater through April 21
WHEN IT COMES to the question of boy meets girl, being Catholic is no easy task. In fact, if we can believe the cast of Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up! a musical comedy about life in a Catholic school, it's often a downright onus. Sure, taking communion and saying a couple "our fathers" is supposed to wash away those sinful thoughts, but when you come right down to it, no amount of praying seems to keep adolescent hormones down to acceptable levels for the church. As a result, either boys and girls literally separate from each other, or as frequently happens during the production, a whole lot of confessing goes on.
Playing upon such glib, if at times cliched generalioes. Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up" makes for a lively, fun-filled evening of humor and song. Though the play's sexual and religious stereotypes occasionally border on the risque, the levity with which the actors execute their roles keeps even the most devout of Catholics from taking offense. Moreover, because the actors perform so well as an ensemble, the production rarely allows for a dull moment.
The Horacian swipes on Catholic dogma revolve around the childhood romance of two well-intentioned social misfits. Eddie (Russ Thacker), a self-professed late bloomer, struggles to reconcile his "sinful" impulses with the rigid doctrine he confronts in school. Becky (Blackman), an overweight outcast taunted by her classmates, stumebles through her formative years asking Cod why she has been singled out. The two meet as youngsters in elementary school, and what blossoms is a classic (if admittedly mushy) romance spanning more than a decade of Catholic schooling.
THE SNAPPY ONE-LINERS and strong vocals which open the show set the pace for most of the first act. Take Eddie's classmate Felix, for example, who confesses to having had 2,617 impure thoughts in one week as a second grader. Or the crotchety Sister Lee, who cautions her girls against sitting at a table with a white tablecloth because "it reminds the boys of bed." Such uproarious exchanges between students and teachers find a delicate balance in the meditative, less bawdy musical numbers. The group rendition of "How Far is too Far" treats the issue of sex with just the right blend of comedy and thought, and Thacker's solo, "Little I at Girls," if mildly sappy, is heartwarming nonetheless.
With the transition from elementary to high school in the second act, the play witnesses a surge of physical energy. The songs become more explicit!" sexual in tone, the conflict between spirit and flesh more prominent. All of this makes for some intersting satire, including a rendition of "Mad Bomber" by the guys' physical education class and "Saving Ourselves for Marriage" by their female counterparts. By far the most successful satirical seene, though, is the high school dance, in which the mins don black sunglasses and rock in doo-wop harmony.
As the confused duo, Thacker and Black ran both give solid performances, particularly in their songs. Yet the real strength of the production lies less with the leads than the play's secondary characters--the despicable goody two shoes (Amy Dolan), the transgressing priest (Wally Engelhardt), the sex starved classmate (Peter Heuchling), and most notably, the vituperative senior nun (Carol Estey).
With the increase in pointedly sexual references, the play attempts to treat its issues with a greater degree of seriousness. Eddie's inability to maintain his religious faith is countered by Becky's decision to join the convent, a move that climaxes the sexual tensior that has been building all along. Ultimately, however, the play chooses not to become an issues-oriented forum, but as the upbeat "Best of Friends" duct suggests, a comic arena largely unconscious of conflict.
But if the conclusion of the play seems a bit on the corny side, it is, in light of the overall tone of the production, appropriately uplifting. The play makes no pretensions of exploring moral conflict with any real rigor, and it is in fact precisely because the cast sidesteps the temptation to treat the show as a spinoll of Sister Mary Ignatius that it works so well
The aim of Do Rack Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up? is to keep its audience laughing not to loss moral ball to the audience. Though the play does loss out some interesting ethical questions in passing, few of the issues raised go beyond the semi-serious tone of the title.
And, in case you were womdering, the answer to the title is yes.