Calling All Tap Dance Kids (Not Acting Kids or Singing Kids)

If you’re taking to the stage a revival of the rarely performed but deeply remembered musical of 1983’s Broadway musical “The Tap Dance Kid” – like Encores! at the Center of New York City doing, Wednesday through Sunday – one of the main challenges is finding the headliner.

That character is Willie Sheridan, a 10-year-old boy whose dream is to be a Broadway dancer and who has the talent to make it happen. The performer who plays him must be like Willie: a young Negro boy who can both sing and dance at the center of an old musical. And in recent decades, that particular combination has fallen out of favor.

Some of the reasons lie right in the story of the show. The film tells the story of a family – an upper-class black man who kicked off the Broadway musical in 1983 – and its main generational conflicts. The main obstacle to Willie’s dream is his father.

For the father, a lawyer, the faucet is not only antiquated but shameful, bound by slavery and the racial humiliation from which he has worked to isolate those he loves. For the boy and his dancing uncle and the ghost of the dancing grandfather, the faucet is beautiful, something to be proud of.

This is a controversy about the past and progress, and at the same time it reflects some of the actual attitudes that continue to influence the popularity of tap, especially among Blacks and the potential youth group of tap dance.

“I knew it would be hard to find a Willie,” said Jared Grimes, Encores choreographer! said in an interview.

During the auditions, Alexander Bello stood out – in terms of acting and singing abilities. His typing skills weren’t quite up to Grimes’ expectations. “I won’t settle,” Grimes said. “This show is not called Acting Games or Singing Children.”

But Bello — who once put a “Broadway audition” on his Christmas list and is already a Broadway veteran by age 13 — was determined to get the role. “I was surprised that almost all the ads were in Black,” he said. “I’ve never seen a room so busy and I wanted to be in that room.” And so, while in school and doing eight shows a week of “Caroline or Change” on Broadway, he tried his hand at a month-long machine training program with DeWitt Fleming Jr. (who plays Willie’s grandfather).

“Alex got the part,” said Kenny Leon, director of Encores! manufacture.

In certain ways, this is an echo of the 1980s. Danny Daniels – who won a Tony Award for choreographing the original production and who, like most of the original creative team, is the one. white – once told me about the difficulty the group had in finding a Willie.

“I asked the producers, ‘Where are you going to find the Negro kids? Black kids don’t knock anymore,” said Daniels, who passed away in 2017.” So we called out tap dancers for young blacks. No one showed up. ‘”

More precisely, no one showed up without machine training. Daniels has begun a faucet training program. The first Willie it produced was Alfonso Ribeiro, who soon left a successful television career (and later show off his mining skills as Carlton on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”). Among the many followers during his two-year run and national tour was Dulé Hill, who had a successful television career of his own, most recently in the reboot of “The Wonder Years”, is making him too busy to appear in Encores! revival.

The other Willie is Savion Glover, the tap-dancing kid who most changed what it means to be one. Under the guidance of Gregory Hines and older Black tap dancers, Glover has become an heir to their clear tradition of the Broadway shows “Black and Blue” and “Jelly’s Last Jam.”

Program in 1996 “Bring in ‘Noise da, Bring in’ Funk skin,” which Glover choreographed and starred in, took the song Black History, both in combat and rhythm, and turned it into a hip-hop gift that people his age can consider are their own. In a monologue, when Glover rejects Broadway styles such as “not even tap dancing” but “hands and feet and a big smile,” he may be describing Daniels’ choreography for “Tap.” Dance Kid”: sequins and high kicks, more dazzling than rhythm.

After “Bring in ‘da Noise” closed, Broadway mining was mostly reverted to the old way. But Glover, with his unsurpassed technical prowess and a more street-friendly image, has inspired a generation of young people. Despite their deep connection to the roots of tap in jazz, they have taken the form contemporary and pushed it to new technical heights – and largely different from his vocals and performances. “Tap Dance Kid”. In this group there are Grimes, now 36.

As Grimes demonstrated in 2013 Broadway production “After Midnight,” He is a faucet dancer with incredible head-to-toe abilities. However, unlike many Glover-inspired supporters, he also finds himself in Hines’ comprehensive line of entertainment. Besides a flourishing performing career – he’s in the midst of an upcoming Broadway revival of “Funny Girl” – he’s been hailed as a choreographer of regional productions, including the musical. “42nd Street” updated.

Grimes says he jumped at the chance to revisit “Tap Dance Kid,” which he calls “the musical every tap dancer dreams of seeing.”

The scene has changed since the early 80s and the late 90s: “When I was growing up,” Grimes said, “if I look in my direction, there were other Black kids who were kings and queens of faucets. . , but now almost none of my students are Black.”

Speaking of kids today, Bello said tap is the dance style they’re “most likely to overlook”.

“Because you can think of it like Shirley Temple or something the men did in the ’70s,” he said. “To other kids, it looks like the faucet was never really modernized, but that’s not true.”

Ayodele Casel, a post-Glover tap dancer whose career has been on the upswing recently, says there are plenty of young black tap dancers but they don’t necessarily see themselves on Broadway because opportunities are scarce. More broadly, however, she acknowledges the importance of someone like her, immersed in tap culture, hired specifically to handle the tap choreography for “Funny Girl.”

“There is still a gap,” she said, “between actors and singers, who have long been able to grasp the basics of tap, and serious tap dancers who do not. There are many motivations for training in acting and singing. But I think people, artists and producers, are starting to think differently about mining. “

Along these lines, the setting of the creative team, more than the cast, may be the most significant change in Encores! revival. The music remains the same, by Henry Krieger in a mode similar to his “Dreamgirls”. But Lydia Diamond, who adapted the book for Encores! production, shifted the story from the 1980s to the 1950s – when racial lines were easier to read and TV series were losing their central place in American popular culture.

“We’re trying to show that something as precious as the history of the faucet is affecting this family, who are fighting to find their footing in the ’50s,” said Grimes. He says he is helping to bring more accurate (and Black) mining history into the script and a sense of exploitation when moving into choreography.

He said: “I wanted to show tap as storytelling and crazy rhythm, but also hating off to variety and comedy and what could be seen as what we had to do to get in the door. We can do it with integrity.”

Grimes says this after a long day of practice, looking forward to practicing some more. “The security officers had to kick me out,” he said. “It’s love, man. I hope that ‘Tap Dance Kid’ will attract completely new people who feel the same way about tap. “ Calling All Tap Dance Kids (Not Acting Kids or Singing Kids)

Fry Electronics Team

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