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Crafting shoes for Broadway’s biggest shows

Radio City Rockettes wearing Capezio Capezio handcrafts shoes for the famous Radio City Rockettes.

Capezio opens the doors to its Theatricals Department

By Deborah Searle of Dance Informa.

If you’ve been to a Broadway show, chances are you’ve seen handcrafted Capezio footwear on stage.

Salvatore Capezio first opened his shop near the old Metropolitan Opera House in New York City in 1887 and began his business by repairing theatrical shoes for the Met. Soon enough, he wasn’t just repairing theatrical shoes, but was creating them.

Salvatore Capezio

Salvatore Capezio and his cobblers handcrafting pointe shoes.

Capezio’s craftsmanship grew in reputation and soon performers from far and wide were visiting to have shoes created for them, including Anna Pavlova, who in 1910 commissioned Salvatore Capezio to make pointe shoes for her and her company during her first visit to America.

In 2014, 127 years later, Capezio is still handcrafting shoes in the tradition of Salvatore Capezio for current Broadway hits like Bullets Over Broadway, After Midnight, Cabaret, Matilda, Cinderella, Newsies, Beautiful, Pippin and Motown the Musical, to name a few.

“Although manufacturing techniques and materials have progressed since 1887, Capezio has continued Salvatore’s handcrafted tradition to present day,” shares Paul Plesh, Capezio's Senior Product Line Manager.

Custom made Capezio Tap Shoes.

Custom made Capezio tap shoes.

On stage, performers need attractive shoes to match the theme and costume, but they must also be practical for the choreography and demands of the show. This is where Capezio’s over 100 years of experience plays a key role in the success of a show.

“We don’t just create a costume shoe, we create a custom shoe that the performers can dance in,” explains Michelle Clemack, Vice President of the Retail Division at Capezio.  “It looks like a regular shoe, but it has all of the functionality of a dance shoe.”

Capezio has a reputation as ‘the’ theatrical shoemaker, just as Salvatore’s original sign above his store read “The Theatrical & Historical Shoemaker” back in the 1800s. To this day, leading artists, directors and costume designers come to Capezio “because of our craftsmanship, our quality and our customer service,” says Clemack.

Wizard of Oz Capezio shoes

Shoes created by Capezio for 'Wizard of Oz.'

Clemack’s favorite Broadway show that featured Capezio custom shoes was the hit musical Billy Elliott.Billy Elliot was great!” she says enthusiastically. “It featured our popular K360 tap shoe, and the Chorus – a style of character shoe.”

“My favorite show currently on the stage featuring Capezio custom shoes is After Midnight. Most of the shoes we made for After Midnight were tap shoes, and some character shoes,” she adds.

After Midnight has been a smash, and the colorful custom Capezios have caught many viewers’ eye. Capezio Athletes Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Jared Grimes and Desmond Richardson star in the show.

Plant Manager Sue Hani, who has worked in the Capezio Factory for over 30 years, also boasts about the bright After Midnight shoes. It’s clear that she’s proud to a part of Capezio’s Theatricals team.

Shoes worn by Michael Jackson, custom made for him by Capezio.

Shoes worn by Michael Jackson, custom made for him by Capezio.

“A large percentage of the shoes created over the years have been tap shoes. We’ve created phenomenal shoes of different colors and variations – just beautiful shoes,” she shares.

“We’ve made shoes for Mary Poppins the musical, Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, Mamma Mia!, Burn the Floor, Fiddler on the Roof, Banana Schpeel, Young Frankenstein, Ain’t Misbehavin,’” and the impressive list goes on and on.

Capezio also makes custom pointe shoes for the world’s leading ballerinas and even cheer boots for renowned Cheerleading squads.

“We’ve made everything from American Ballet Theatre’s character shoes for the men and women to cheer footwear for the New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls and New Jersey Nets cheerleaders,” says Hani.

Chicago Luvabulls cheerleading boots by Capezio

Chicago Luvabulls cheerleading boots crafted by Capezio.

Capezio even makes custom shoes for the circus, Disney World and music artists such as Lady Gaga, Madonna and the late Michael Jackson. Many shoes have also been created for Hollywood.

“We created the shoes for Elf the movie,” says Hani, “from Will Ferrell to all the cast members. The first order was over 70 pairs!”

The Elf shoes, with their characteristic pointy, upturned toe, can be seen in Capezio’s 51st Street and Broadway flagship store in New York City. The store has a quite a display of theatrical and historical shoes. It is a must-see for any lover of Broadway, fashion and dance.

“My favorite shoe on display is the Cats boot,” says Clemack. “That’s the shoe we get the most response from. Customers get so excited over the look and feel of those furry shoes!”

Elf the movie shoe by Capezio

An elf shoe created by Capezio for 'Elf' the movie.

“We have many shoes on display from A Chorus Line, Cabaret, Elf the movie, Cats and current shows like After Midnight. We also have samples of different kinds of shoes we can make so when designers and customers walk in they can see the different options.”

Capezio’s flagship store in Melbourne, Australia, also has a must-see display of antique Capezio shoes and even some of Salvatore Capezio’s original handcrafting tools. There is a gorgeous gold shoe worn and signed by Liza Minelli, a shoe worn by Debbie Reynolds and even an original chorus shoe worn by Donna McKechnie in A Chorus Line from 1975, complete with signature! 1975 was A Chorus Line’s first year on Broadway and McKechnie won a Drama Desk Award and a Tony Award for her rendition of “Cassie” wearing these shoes.

There are also Capezio shoes from Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular, The Music Man, The King and I, Hello Dolly and more recent productions, such as those by Cirque du Soleil, on display.

Donna McKechnie A Chorus Line shoe

Capezio chorus shoe from 'A Chorus Line' worn By Donna McKechnie in 1975 on display at Capezio's Melbourne store.

“There’s so many reasons why dancers should could come visit the Broadway and 51st Street Capezio store,” said Clemack. You could be fit for pointe shoes by professional pointe shoe fitters who work with beginners up to professionals in American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, you can come see the historical part of the store, which is Theatricals, where you can see patterns from famous dancers’ shoes and old Broadway shoes, and you can come see and try on the hottest trends in dance fashion.”

It’s definitely worth popping into Capezio’s Broadway and Melbourne stores to see the historical shoes on display and get lost in the glamour of show business from yesterday and today. Capezio has been involved in Broadway and theatre since before there were even theaters in the Times Square district, and these shoes give you a rare glimpse into that history.

With 127 years of experience and a long, historical relationship with Broadway and the theatrical world, Capezio continues to bring to life the best shoes for the best shows in the world, with tradition and innovation hand in hand.