BWW Review: THE TAP DANCE KID at NJPAC
Tap dance luminary Savion Glover called it his duty to keep his style of young, funky dance alive. Thirty-five years after the Tony Award-winning choreographer's Broadway debut as the star of "The Tap Dance Kid," Glover returned to his native Newark to revive the musical that catapulted his illustrious career with a new generation of aspiring young performers. Among his many notable credits, he is praised for his work in "Happy Feet" and "Happy Feet 2" and the Broadway musical "Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk" for which he took home a Tony Award for Best Choreography.
"I'm torn between being excited about the show, being excited for me, or being excited about these children," said Glover, who directed and choreographed "The Tap Dance Kid," to a full audience on opening night, September 13, at the Victoria Theater at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. "I'm excited for it all. This show is very dear to my heart, to my life, and my career."
This past summer Glover engaged the cast in a two-month-long, rigorous rehearsal. Victoria Csatay, a high school sophomore in River Vale who is the granddaughter of the late Grammy winning bebop jazz trombonist Eddie Bert and a participant in NJPAC's Jazz for Teens, described the rehearsals as equal parts challenging and fun.
"When he teaches us the tap steps it's kind of difficult because he does it really fast and then he says, 'hear it and then do it,'" recalled Csatay. "It took a little getting used to."
She continued, "It's very rhythmic and there are different tones. He adds different syllables and intensities to what you're tapping, so it really sounds more like a sentence. Like you're actually speaking instead of tapping."
Besides learning the intricate moves (kids shuffled on the balls of their feet, balanced their weight on their heels, and even stood on their toes!) Csatay described Glover's exuberance as contagious.
"He brings so much energy to the rehearsals that there's no way for you not to have a good time," she says. "He is very spontaneous. He gets very, very excited about everything and he can't have any distractions in the room or else he gets sidetracked. He just is very high energy, very dedicated, very focused."
A cast of 35 fervent tap dancers from around the region ranging in age from tween to young adult delivered a spunky and endearing performance with a live band wrought with poignancy, hilarity and wonderment during the musical's weekend run. The charismatic and talented cast tapped, sang and acted out the story of 10-year-old William "Willy" Sheridan Jr. (Ellis Foreman), a skinny, sensitive boy with feet and heart reminiscent of Michael Jackson, who dreams of becoming a dancer. His father, however, William Sheridan (John Lester III) -- a strait-laced lawyer who demands that his kids excel in school and follow in his white-collar footsteps - is anything but supportive.
With a family dynamic paralleling that of 1970s sitcom "What's Happening!!" tensions abound between Willie's pigtailed older sister Emma (Sierra Edmonds), the ugly duckling of the family who eats her feelings, and her mother Ginnie (Jocelyn Creekmur), a stylish, nurturing matriarch who assumes the role of the voice of reason. In one scene, the two engage in a heated exchange about how Ginnie did the best she could to raise her family and the true meaning of success. Though only a 20-something in real life, Creekmur's performance of a formidable, 30-something mother was both inspiring and admirable. Equally impressive was Edmonds' soulful solo of "Four Strikes Against Me," a hopeful song about conquering self-defeat and not giving up. Her delivery was so powerful she had the crowd rooting for her.
While the backpack-carrying, braces-wearing Willie struggles in school, it's his good old Uncle Dipsey Bates (Jai Surles, Amari Key), the self-assured, know-it-all dance instructor who encourages his nephew to nurture his artistic expression as opposed to his father's principles that center more on the practical. Meanwhile, romance blossoms between Dipsey and Carole (Csatay), a bonny fellow dancer and love interest. Csatay's impassioned solo in which she warbled "I Could Get Used to Him," with vocals reminiscent of Ella Fitzgerald was among the musical's many highlights. Another was of Dipsey comforting Willie before bedtime while gazing up at the stars in the night sky to the wistful tune "Man in the Moon." Dipsey's solo "My Luck is Changing" was another galvanizing number which he proudly belts out after his long-awaited hallelujah moment when he receives good news about his career advancement, evincing the musical's simple, yet reverberating message: "Dance if it makes you happy."
"Whether you are an auntie, an uncle, a cousin, a friend, a family member, a neighborhood person, if you had anything to do with allowing your child to be a part of this special event, we thank you, we honor you," said Glover to the crowd before the curtain raised at the premiere. "We tell you and encourage you to do more with the children. Do more for your child. Pay more attention to them when and how they are expressing themselves in your presence. Recognize art. Recognize creativity in the children."
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Lianna Albrizio