Review: ‘The Tap Dance Kid’ Still out of tune with the times

When 8:30 p.m. is the typical closing time for Broadway musicals, the greatest number of protagonists, crystallizes the crisis and warrants acclaim – think “Rose’s Turn” in ” Gypsy” – usually arrives at 11 o’clock.

Curtain for opening Wednesday night Encores! revival of “Tap Dance Kid” increases at 7:30, so the so-called 11 o’clock figure is closer to 10, but the main event is still recognizable. That’s when Joshua Henry, playing William Sheridan, the conservative father of a Black family thrown into chaos by a son who wants to be a dancer, let loose with a show of ripping the fabric of the rest of his family. program into pieces, expressed with fury. and unbridled horror as the character disregards what he perceives as the performing Blackness of the faucet.

“I still laugh in the worst of times,” he growled as he walked away, swaying monstrously. “Let the white man throw me his coins and nicknames.”

It was an incredible performance, in the best way hard to watch. If only William were the main character that might even make sense at the end of a lighter story. But he doesn’t, and it doesn’t, and the biggest number, whenever it comes, shouldn’t be his.

“The Tap Dance Kid” is never certain about which member of the Sheridan family – the focus seems to change every 10 minutes – is just one of the oddities that caused the 1983 musical to have the same tone but intermittently, but Encores!, to return to live production after a two-year pandemic hiatus, will be available through Sunday in Central New York City.

Is the main character, as the title makes you expect, William’s 10-year-old son, Willie (Alexander Bello), who wants to dance despite his father’s prohibition? Or is it Emma (Shahadi Wright Joseph), William’s 14-year-old daughter, who wants to be a lawyer like him but has a hard time getting his attention because she’s a girl?

What about William’s wife, Ginnie (Adrienne Walker), who has to “dance” to her husband’s hot temper while trying to make things right for her children? Or Ginnie’s brother, Uncle Dipsey (Trevor Jackson), a dancer and choreographer? Dipsey, depending on your point of view, either leads Willie astray by teaching him “shim-sham-shimmy” or upholds the cheerful tradition of an art form as mastered by men like his late father, Daddy Bates (DeWitt Fleming Jr.).

Yes, even a ghost gets two big numbers.

The musical was always something of an escape. Original book, by Charles Blackwellbased on the young adult novel”No one’s family will change“By Louise Fitzhugh in “Harriet the Spy” Famous, Never Solved the problem of making entertaining fun from such upbeat material.

The track – by Henry Krieger and Robert Lorick – completely absorbed that melodic confusion, delivering songs that were either totally spirited (“Fabulous Feet”) or obscene (“Four Strikes Against Me.” ) with very little interlacing. There are times when you don’t know why someone is singing or dancing and other times when you do but wish you weren’t.

The Encores! production, directed by Kenny Leon, fails to address those issues. Lydia Diamond’s “concert adaptation” (although the production was staged separately) made some improvements, shifting the story, which in the 1983 production supposedly took place in the “present” to 1956, it made more sense in some ways. The interpersonal conflict and often the gender of the family – Emma wants to wear pants, Ginnie likes to dress under her husband – feels more appropriate in the earlier period, as does Krieger’s upbeat music, bringing weird vintage vibes from the “Dreamgirls” composer. However, it is superbly performed by the 24-part Encores! orchestra under the direction of Joseph Joubert.

But in further modifying the messy clothes used for the original producer’s national tour, Diamond’s adaptation exacerbates the show’s fragmented approach. (At the start, we get three consecutive set numbers, for Willie, Dipsey and Emma, ​​so very little set up.) And the cutscenes are said to be part of the Encores! brevity is especially detrimental for such a busy but unfocused story. In one scene, I realized that Willie was riding a bus only after checking the show and seeing that the number was called “Crosstown.” I thought he was in a dream sequence.

Jared Grimes’ choreography is breathtaking in terms of populations, and demonstration of different types of faucets as they passed from Daddy Bates to his children and then, via Dipsey, to more familiar Broadway versions, which were fascinating to watch. Jackson (along with Tracee Beazer as his girlfriend, Carole) is an especially interesting dancer, and also an attractive crooner. And Bello, in the Willies tradition, which included Alfonso Ribeiro, Dulé Hill and Savion Glover, captivatingly embodies learning and then rapidly personalizing the moves that are part of his legacy.

I wish that was the focus of the story – or there was some sort of focus. If musical numbers are sometimes elusive with the naked eye, the staging of scenes in books is often no different. And at least on the opening night, after only 11 days of rehearsals, the technical elements were still not sticky. For a show about the vibrancy of dance, the tempo is oddly slow.

That is partly built into the difficulty of the starting material. And though one of the Favorite things! designed to show us how musicals, for better or worse, feel like when they first hit theaters, I’m not sure this production, for the first time under the new art director of Lear deBessonet, successful or not.

Probably shouldn’t. “The Tap Dance Kid” tells the story of an upper-middle-class black family (“Didn’t you buy all your clothes on the Upper East Side?” William asked his wife eloquently) that made it a little ahead of its time. in 1983. It was mainly the work of a white creative team that made it a bit dated compared to the present time. Giving Black artists a new look was the only sensible thing to do – except leave it as it is. Not all historical sites need to be displayed.

Tap Dance Kid
Through February 6 at Downtown New York City, Manhattan; Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes. Review: ‘The Tap Dance Kid’ Still out of tune with the times

Fry Electronics Team

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