Comfortable Shoes | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Comfortable Shoes 

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Comfortable Shoes, Royal George Theatre Center. This perfectly packaged musical autobiography by Las Vegas crooner Clint Holmes is not your usual feel-good success story, though Holmes's pop score is definitely upbeat. Written with Nelson Kole, it's an identity quest: Clay, the son of a white British opera singer and a black American jazz musician, must find his niche. With the help of stalwart wife Brenda, he invents a style that fuses the best of both worlds.

Some clashes are depicted humorously, as when young Clay (played by eighth-grade marvel Justin Reynolds) tries to combine his father's throaty bebop voice with his mother's concert-hall chest tones. Others are serious: prom night is ruined when a racist dad learns Clay is not Italian. At times the cross-cultural crises seem merely the result of insufficient information: the musical pursues its agenda while ignoring obvious questions. But happily it never confuses suffering with nobility.

The coming-of-age first act peaks with the young Clay's fantasy of making it big ("I Wanna Be Like"). Less driven, the second act is cluttered with anecdotes about the entertainer not being black or white enough for shallow LA producers. But it warms up when Christopher Neal Jackson's engaging Clay and Shané Williams's powerhouse Brenda pour their hearts into "Look at Me," one of several showstopping duets. Director Mark Dow capitalizes on a terrific cast, notably Carol Kuykendall and Stanley White as Clay's parents and big-time belter E. Faye Butler as an imperious in-law.

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