In 2010, Chicago Tap Theatre ( CTT ) mounted its spring season closer at the 984-seat Athenaeum Theatre for the second time, surprising audiences with a 20-minute Queen extravaganza complete with chorus and marching band. The "Tap Out Loud" closing number was meant as a small tribute for artistic director Mark Yonally's late brother, who loved operatic rock and infused Yonally's childhood with the sounds of Bonnie Tyler and Freddy Mercury.
Coinciding with Pride weekend, the seasoned tappers at CTT are revisiting the suite of seven songs performed years ago, but this time will be bigger, better and totally fabulous. In what has now become "We Will Tap You: A Tap Dance Celebration to the Music of Queen," showing June 25 at the Athenaeum Theatre, Yonally and CTT music director Kurt Schweitz take on their most ambitious project to date.
We Will Tap You features up to 120 performers with guests galore, including choreographers Rich Ashworth and Kirsten Uttich, aerial tapping in Collaboration with C5's Jeremy Plummer, guest emcee Mattrick Swayze, live music by a seven-piece band with vocals from Alien Queen and The David Bowie Variety Hour's Nick Davio and the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus, Lakeside Pride Freedom Marching Band and the Chicago Spirit Brigade.
In an interview with Windy City Times, Yonally reflects on the 2010 iteration of his glam-rock spectacle. "It was an early attempt to do something on that big of a scale," he said. "We learned a lot, like how when you have a marching band on stage with tap dancers, you can't hear tap dancing! So this year, we are going to be much savvier."
"I like things that are over the top and absurd," said Yonally. Imagine 16 tap dancers, some hanging from the ceiling, surrounded by a 50-piece marching band, 30 singers belting "Galileo, Figaro," 20 brigade complete with rifles and Mattrick Swayze paraded about the stage like Esther Williamsand that becomes the understatement of the year. "It will feel, I think, like a real spectacle," he said. "I want people to feel surprised and delighted!"
As one of few smaller dance companies with an established season of performances, CTT's big spring show has always coincided with Pride Month. Yonally observed a gap in Pride Month offerings, with no large-scale performance celebrating pride despite a number of established LGBT performing-arts organizations in town. "Everyone is always so booked preparing for the parade," he said, but Yonally put out a bunch of calls asking performers and organizations to take part, and practically everyone agreed to take part. "A city as great as Chicago, with such a rich history in the LGBT community, should have a spectacle," Yonally said. "We've always had a presence in the LGBT community. It's been a community I've taken strength from. So, if CTT can be the catalyst to bring these organizations together, it's an honor to do it."
Once the glitter falls and the spectacle ends, the hope is that "We Will Tap You" will have created cross-promotion opportunities outside the Pride Parade for some of the city's longest-standing LGBT organizations, and hopefully will have inspired some new tap fans, too.
Patrons of CTT will notice a number of changes next season, including a date swap of the company's annual story-based show. After years at UIC's theater, CTT's holiday show "Tidings of Tap" is moving north for a one-nighter Sunday, Dec. 18, at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. Back by popular demand, next season will also feature a revival of "Changes: A Science Fiction Tap Opera to the Music of David Bowie," and a sit-down dinner gala Friday, Oct. 14, honoring Broadway legend Ben Vereen as the first recipient of the Achievement in Storytelling through Movement award.
"We Will Tap You: A Tap Dance Celebration to the Music of Queen" will take place Saturday, June 25, at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave. Tickets are $23-35; visit AthenaeumTheatre.org or call 773-935-6875.