‘Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?’ returns to Alhambra stage

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As of Wednesday, Sept. 12, “Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?” has officially returned to the Alhambra Theatre & Dining stage for yet another round of good-spirited, Catholic school fun.

Based on the 1975 novel of the same name by John R. Powers, “Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?” has been performed multiple times at the Alhambra, though it has been 21 years since its last run in 1997. A musical comedy, the show is a coming-of-age story that follows eight Catholic school students in Chicago from elementary school through high school as they experience the ups and downs of adolescence — including bullying, sex, love and the uncertainties of the future — and learn to view them through the lens of their faith.  

Even while the show pokes fun at some of the quirks that set Roman Catholics apart (“Leave room for the Holy Ghost!”), it does so affectionately and in such a way that members of all faiths and backgrounds can relate. From Felix Lindor (Jake Delaney) and his raging hormones, for instance, to teacher’s pet Mary Kinney (Molly Anne Ross), the characters portrayed will seem familiar to all former students, both public and private.

As the main characters are played by the same eight actors throughout the whole show, it’s truly remarkable how deftly the Alhambra cast portrays the gradual maturation of a child from youth to adulthood. In the lead role of Eddie Ryan, for example, Rodney Holmes not only shows off his vocal chops, but does a fantastic job of depicting the evolution of his character from an innocent young boy to a teen who can’t seem to stop having “impure thoughts.” 

Also worthy of praise is Stephen Kane, who played Eddie in the original Alhambra production in 1989, for his performance in the role of Father O’Reilly. Whether he is slapping troublemakers with a Bible or giggling in the confession box, Kane skillfully reveals the depth of this stern, yet caring authority figure — and does so with an impeccable Irish brogue to boot.

But while the show has no shortage of talent, there is one performance that is truly moving to behold: Annabelle Fox as Becky Barkowski. Anyone who has ever been bullied will immediately empathize with Fox’s portrayal of young Becky, who is tormented not only by her classmates, but also by her mother for being overweight. When in one song, she heartbreakingly wonders, “Does God love little fat girls too?” it’s difficult not to feel her anguish, and when she finds a friend in Eddie, it’s impossible to resist rejoicing for them both.

“Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?” will continue its run at the Alhambra through Oct.7, but be sure to lock down tickets fast, because news of this divine comedy’s return is bound to spread like the gospel.

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