BWW Review: TAP TREASURES SHOWCASE Pays Tribute to the History of Tap
According to Artistic Director/Producer Tony Waag, Tap Treasures Showcase "reinvestigates and revisits eight historic locations in Manhattan that contributed to the evolution of tap dance." The hour-long show was performed at The Duke on 42nd Street on Thursday, July 14, 2016.
The program contained a brief history of the eight places: The Apollo, the New Amsterdam Theatre, the Liberty Theatre, Woodpeckers dance studio, the Village Gate nightclub, the American Tap Dance Center, the Five Points neighborhood in lower Manhattan believed to be the birthplace of tap dance, and the Copasetic Boat Ride, which commemorates Bill "Bojangles" Robinson's Copasetic Club.
The evening opened with a video of excerpts from vintage tap performances, including Fred Astaire, James Cagney, and Bojangles' famous stair dance. Videos continued behind the dancers throughout the show.
In the opening piece, Max Pollak danced acapella while chanting the names of many famous tap dancers from Bojangles to Ruby Keeler.
Next up were Tony Waag and a group of tap dancers wearing tails, alongside hip hop dancers, a waacker, and body percussionists. Because rhythm is an integral part of both tap and street dance forms, they blend well together. The number was performed to the Gershwins' "Fascinating Rhythm."
Karen Callaway Williams continued the night with another piece to a Gershwin song, "Lady Be Good." She choreographed it as well in a largely Hollywood style. This is the style of tap I learned, which includes a lot of footwork on the toes rather than primarily stomping on flat feet. It's also characterized by balletic arm movements, unlike the slight arm movement used with rhythm tap. It's a much more feminine style. Think Ann Miller and Eleanor Powell.
The next number to "I Won't Dance" was performed and choreographed by Caleb Teicher in soft shoes with resin on the floor to make that "sandy sound," followed by a slower piece by The Copasetics, consisting of Ms. Williams, Mr. Waag, and Lynn Schwab.
One of my favorite pieces of the night was performed and choreographed by Melinda Sullivan to "Bye Bye Blues." She sang the first part of the song, showing off her lovely voice and jazz phrasing. Then, the musicians picked up the tempo, and she had a chance to display her fast taps and varying rhythms. Her choreography was particularly creative.
The loudest cheers from the audience came after "The Audition," a piece involving Randy Skinner, the director/choreographer of the recent Broadway revival of "Dames At Sea." He was the dance assistant in the original cast of "42nd Street" and the director/choreographer of the revival of the show on Broadway in 2001. For Tap Treasures, he adapted Gower Champion's original "42nd Street" choreography and danced with the cast. Talk about an exciting moment of tap history! The steps aren't particularly difficult, but they're expertly crafted for a chorus to make the percussive sounds in perfect unison.
In between dance pieces, there was more video. My favorite included performances at the Village Gate by Peg Leg Bates and Charles "Honi" Coles. If you don't know who these dancers are, look them up on YouTube. You'll be glad you did.
TEd Levy paid homage to John Bubbles, a legendary stage, film and tap star of the 1930s. He started by giving us a brief history of John's life, who was in the original Broadway cast of "Porgy and Bess," and who gave his last live performance at the Village Gate. Levy sang a beautiful rendition of "It Ain't Necessarily So," with some call and response from the audience, and then showed off his formidable tap chops.
For the finale, the cast, including Mr. Waag, performed alongside the street dancers. The ensemble choreography was listed in the program as by Bill Robinson (Bojangles) and Brenda Bufalino inspired by Charles "Honi" Coles and Leonard Reed.
It was a celebratory evening with loving reverence to the venues and tap dancers who started it all. Tap Treasures was part of Tap City, the New York City Tap Festival running from July 9-16. In its 16th year, Tap City is produced by the American Tap Dance Foundation (ATDF).
Photo Credit: Amanda Gentile