Playwright: Derrick K. Grant, Aaron Tolson
At: Harris Music and Dance Theater
Phone: 312-334-7777; $29-$69
Runs through: Aug. 6
By Jonathan Abarbanel
The brand-new show Imagine Tap has ambitions—although no immediate plans—for a life beyond Chicago, perhaps on Broadway. What's on display at the Harris Theater, while fully produced and well produced, is the first flowering of an idea that hasn't gone through endless workshops. It's still fresh and malleable and, to a degree, unfinished.
There are two aspects of Imagine Tap to consider: the dance elements ( primarily ) and then the other elements of theatrical presentation such as music, design and writing.
If there is fault to be found with Derick K. Grant's choreography, and its execution by a dynamic and athletic ensemble, I'm not the critic to find it. To a man and woman, they are dazzling and engaging hoofers ( Grant himself among them ) performing in a wide range of tap styles. There are nods to traditional song-and-dance tap with homages to the great Nicholas Brothers and film choreographer Hermes Pan, the behind-the-camera force behind Fred Astaire. Most of the dance, however, is in the contemporary percussive vein, clearly bearing witness to the torch passed from Gregory Hines to Savion Glover and others of the present generation, with bits of break dancing and hip-hop also in the rich mix. The dancing is all aces, although the women noticeably have less to do than the men.
However, if Imagine Tap wishes to be a complete theatrical entertainment, it must focus on the other elements that are not as well-thought-out or executed as the dance itself.
Imagine Tap is a revue, a series of independent numbers with no overall storyline. If each segment is to stand alone, each must have a strong context, a small dramatic premise. Some do—such as the joyous 'Detention' and the atmospheric 'Samurai Shuffle'—but others do not. Original songs frame some of the scenes, but the integration between song and dance is not effective. Repeatedly, the singers sing and then the dancers dance. The creators need to better integrate song with dance, and sometimes allow both to happen at the same time.
Under musical director ( and composer ) Zane Mark, the tight and energetic eight-piece band sounds twice its size and like a million bucks. But, despite tips of the cap to Cole Porter and Irving Caesar ( 'Tea for Two' ) , the music is too much of a piece. Jazz and salsa flourishes notwithstanding, almost every number turns into a blast of R&B. What is needed is more variety in volume, tempo and style. Even contemporary tap—vs. old-hat soft shoe—might be performed to a quiet tune, which would be a fresh idea.
Imagine Tap is an exuberant dance show. The creative team and ensemble clearly have talent to develop it beyond its present limits, if they have the will.