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"Shoewtime": The Role of Shoes in Showbiz

Ran considers the footwear in such shows as Chaplin, Wicked, Kinky Boots, and Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark. logo

Illustration of Kinky Boots
(© Ran Xia)
Here's the total disclosure: I learned American English by watching Sex and the City because it was surely, I naively thought, the cannon version of how New Yorkers talk and live. What I also learned is, after six seasons plus two films full of fabulous shoes, that Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte and every other woman in New York, can go gaga about heels, and that heels will always be in the spotlight in the theatre world.

There's something inexplicable about being six inches off the ground: those worldly ladies from Love Loss and What I Wore told us how gorgeous a pair of high heels makes a woman feel and what a torture it is to actually walk in them. "We've all got those big toes." Indeed, raise your hand if you sympathize with Cinderella's stepsisters when they had to chop off parts of their feet to fit in the glass slipper! There's something mysterious about the dazzling color, curving arch of a pair of high-heeled dance shoes: Victoria Page showed us what tragedy stirred up in pursuit of beauty. Those red shoes cast a curse on her, and on everyone else who dreams of spinning and turning center stage, never stopping, never losing focus…she was enlightened, possessed, carried away.

We say, "stepping into someone else's shoes" metaphorically, and for stage actors, that phrase has a literal meaning. What protects your feet and supports your weight is crucial to your character development.

One of the most memorable details from Chaplin the musical was when Charlie "discovered" his character of the little tramp: the old beggar from Charlie's childhood memory appeared on stage; Charlie follows him, putting on the disgruntled pair of shoes the beggar left behind. That pair of old things – that don't even fit – got mystified on the stage, for it transformed Charlie Chaplin, a regular comedian chap from London, into a mastermind of the Hollywood golden age, as if they have magic.

Speaking of magic, who wouldn't want Dorothy's instant travelling shoes: click your heels together and you'll get to wherever your heart desires. Well, those of us who are fortunate enough to have seen Wicked would know that those fabulous, exquisitely jeweled shoes belonged to Nessarose, the Munchkin Land Guvnor's daughter, before she was squashed by a house that flew all the way from Kansas City. We also found out that Elphaba, the wicked witch of the west, locked Dorothy up to get those shoes back in memory of her sister. "Those are just shoes Elphie, let it go!" Glinda tried to persuade her. Now that's where we laugh, because Miss Galinda had impressed us all: her at least 20 pairs of, mostly pastel coloured shoes.

Charlie from Northampton at Price & Son's tried to use the same persuasion. "You people do realize that they're just shoes!" he said. A full length musical about the significance of high-heeled boots for drag queens, how would that work? Of course, of course, throw in themes like "personal growth" and "accepting people for who they are," Kinky Boots is still telling a story of the triumph of love. Then again, you've got a good story, decorated with some heelarious comical moments; it'd definitely be elevated.

I get judgmental when I see designer shoes labeled $400+. "Who are those people willingly spending a fortune just to torture themselves?" I thought. But then I realized: shoes are women's personal statements. They are categorized in accessories section for a good reason, for shoes have the same functions as ties, and perfumes: revealing their owners' personalities, philosophies and tastes.

This theory was proven true recently in a study published on Medical Daily. Of course, we are no Sherlock Holmes and couldn't deduct a person's entire "heelstory" just by examining his or her shoes, but the next time we go shoe shopping, it'd be a good idea to keep in mind that, what we wear represents who we are.

Showbiz shoes are the trickiest: they need to blend in with the story, go along with the costumes, be pretty, sturdy and highly functional. That's almost as much as you ask for in a professional actor. Simply put, shoes can determine success of a performance because they keep the dancers on their bases and all the characters in their places.

As long as we learn the lesson from Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark's Arachne and refrain from throwing high heels at the audience, shoes will have a long life in entertainment.