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TAP DOGS (article first published : 2002-07-17)

‘Okay,” say the cynics – who haven’t seen the show, I might add. “What’s the big deal? It’s about six guys doing tap. How can you make a full length show from that – it’ll be noisy, for a start!”

To coin a line from a well-known song, halfway through Tap Dogs I thought: “Well, all I can say is Wow! Just look at where I am!” Sitting in the Opera Theatre watching six extremely fit and gorgeous young men proving that tap can be extended beyond the boundaries of belief to an extravaganza of percussive dance and movement.

Noisy, sure. And the surfaces are miked. Obviously. But the sound balance is so good that your ears become attuned at an early point and from then on it’s sheer magic all the way. Most of the performers have been doing tap from an early age – six years old seems to be the average – and their movement skills are incredible.

Add to this the genius of distinguished two-time Olivier Award-winning choreographer Dein Perry with the brilliant design of director Nigel Triffitt and a stunning score by composer Andrew Wilke and you have an absolutely must-see production.

Loosely based on a scenario of workmen on a construction site, the opening movements involve no music at all – just the introduction of the performers which includes a clever sequence seen through a gap in the set, just featuring feet. Completely focused and highly disciplined while appearing ultra casual and loose-limbed, the cast then moves through an astounding series of scenes on the versatile set. Even the main dancing stage area gets to have a dance of its own accompanied by beautiful lighting.

There are distinct characters: The Foreman is Douglas Mills and 2IC is played by James Doubtfire who is also the show’s dance captain. Then there’s The Enforcer played by Nigel Long; Martin Herbert who pulled in many of the laughs as Funky; Andrew Harrison as The Rat and Chris Ernest as The Kid. There’s much mischievous humour between the performers and a strong competitive atmosphere although each gets a chance to shine individually.

Most of the music is on backing track but is made immediate by the live playing of multi-talented musician Mark Whiteman.

Among the highlights was a beautiful piece where the Foreman instructs the Kid in movement patterns which extend from a sitting position to long glides across the stage. The Kid’s concentration is real, the choreography can change each night! Another highlight was James Doubtfire’s dancing on a ceiling suspended by cables upside down! The most spectacular sequence involved angle grinders showering a ballet of sparks.

“It’s an in-your-face show. More stunt tap than dance tap,” says James Doubtfire. “The show has travelled the world and it changes to its audiences. This is the first time it’s been in South Africa and the response has been great. People here understand the fun – I think South Africans have a great sense of humour.”

Tap Dogs runs in the Playhouse Opera from July 15 to 20. Book at Computicket or phone 011 340-8000. Go and see it – what are you waiting for? – Caroline Smart




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