note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Larry Stark
Book & Lyrics by Reg E. Gaines
Music by Daryl Waters, Zane Mark, Anne Duquesnay
Choreography by Savion Glover
Recreated by Derick K. Grant
Conceived and Directed by George C. Wolfe
Scenic Design by Riccardo Hernandez
Costume Design by Paul Tazewell
Lighting Design by Jules Fisher/Peggy Eisenhauer
Sound Design by Jon Weston
Projection design by Batwin+Robin
Production Stage Manager Doug Hosney
Musical Director Richard Cummings
Derick K. Grant
Christopher A. Scott
David Peter Chapman
Dennis J. Dove
B. Jason Young
9:50 p m
Three guys, late-teens, one white, exploded out of the Shubert Theatre and rushed through the lushly late-spring evening ahead of me down Tremont Street, enthusing to one another about what they had just witnessed, until one, unable to contain himself, broke into a quick clog-step in his hollowly clunking Adidas, then admitted he was more a plastic-bucket drummin' man. They must have lucked-out for some of the $21.00 rush-seats, because I heard one insisting to his incredulous friend that "It'll cost you sixty-eight dollars to sit in the front row." He's right, and if you don't luck out in the Rush it'll cost you thirty-eight to sit in the last row. But my advice, and I think theirs, is: If you've got it, spend it. This show is worth it.
The producers must expect this show to bring in a young crowd whose ear-bones have been crushed by too many heavy-metal concerts (Sound Designer Jon Weston is apparently deaf, and intends to make the entire audience deaf as well), but it's for everyone. From beginning to end it celebrates the infinite expressive variety of tap-dance, with a quick glance through Black American history in musical and dancing styles.
After a loud rock-concert opening, they get right to it with a single, despairing, rolling figure in a single harsh spotlight recreating the slave-ship journey, and then four rustic figures miming the motions of drudgery and farm-work, with only an occasional scrape or floor-stamp in their repetitions, and finally a break into cake-walks. The work-motions become dance-motions in a slow, clear evolution.
David Peter Chapman and Dennis J. Dove are on-stage drummers, specializing in plastic-tub funk, but they start out playing an array of kitchen pots, hung across the stage but hanging from each other's bodies as well. It's the rippling give-and-take of their quick-tempo rhythmic riffs that rattles under the sharper, metallic tapping. One number late in the show has these two laying down basics while the four dancers "trade-fours" in a kind of tap-dance cutting-contest where anyone must step instantly into the rhythm-pattern and make it his own before passing it on to someone else. It looks exactly like an improvised tap-dance jam session.
The history lesson uses projected pictures and brief text and scads of lightning costume-changes to allow four dancers, one singer, and a narrator to slide from one emotionally charged scene to another out of the Negro past and into the contemporary Black present. Starting in the lynching-fields of the rural South (with Dominique Kelly in a harsh single spot miming a manacled victim fighting unsuccesfully for his life before going taut and rigid and slowly swinging from an imaginary rope), to railroads making the trek to Chicago's fancier clothes and night-club dancing --- and race riots. One complicated set-piece on factory work makes the whole cast into rhythmic automatons as powerfully mechanistic as the old film "Metropolis". Then, with singer Vickilyn Reynolds in a pure white Erte ball-gown the scene is Harlem's golden age of urbane Ellington's Cotton Club, where snapping fingers ring more precisely than tapping feet.
Then a Hollywood sequence, with a kid (Remember the "Gotta Dance!" number from "Singin' in The Rain"?) trying to find the lost "Beat" in various sound-stages. Centerpiece here is a send-up of the Shirley Temple/BoJangles Robinson routines, with "Uncle Huck-A-Buck" 's inane smile forever pasted in place, and Derek Kelly's feet under "Lil' Dahlin" 's manipulated little-doll figure.
The search for the lost "Beat" ends with Savion Glover's narration "Green, Chaney, Buster, Slyde" explaining the particular styles of these four great tap-dance artists, while Derick K. Grant, facing a triple-mirror with his back to the audience, demonstrates every nuance of their steps and the comments Glover makes on them and on the expressive possibilities in the communicative art of tap. After that, the cutting-contest is everything you've learned set in motion.
The dancers are Derick K. Grant, Dominique Kelly (he's only fifteen!), B. Jason Young, Christopher A. Scott, and Jimmy Tate; the bountiful, powerful singer is Vickilyn Reynolds, the narrator is Thomas Silcott, the drummers are David Peter Chapman and Dennis J. Dove, and every single one of them is the star of the show.
Pay the money. It's worth every cent of it.
12:19 a m