Tap dancing of the highest quality. It’s a rare, precious commodity in live theater these days. But those wishing for a jolt of thrilling choreography intertwined with a feel-good story should head to New York City Center for the first show of the Encores! Series, The Tap Dance Kid.
The Encores! series digs into Broadway’s vault and revives classic musicals, both hits and flops. This time around, they visited the 1983 tuner based on Louise Fitzhugh’s novel, Nobody’s Family is Going to Change. (Sadly, Fitzhugh died from a brain aneurysm before the book went to print and would not see her story reimagined for the stage.). The musical was nominated for several awards and won two—one unsurprisingly for Best choreography by Danny Daniels.
Here, Jared Grimes curates this marvelously talented cast, directed with a sturdy hand by Kenny Leon. Within the first few minutes of the show, one can tell how it will end. Willie (Alexander Bello) comes from a line of entertainers. His mother Ginnie (Adrienne Walker) and grandfather (Dewitt Fleming, Jr.) would tour the country with Vaudeville acts, along with Ginnie’s brother, Dipsey (Trevor Jackson). Dipsey continues to perform and Willie idolizes him. All 10-year old Willie wants to do is dance. The only wish his sister, Emma (Shahadi Wright Joseph) has is to become a lawyer. But William (Joshua Henry) is having none of it. He has toiled and labored too hard to become a successful lawyer. Willie should follow his father’s career path and Emma ought to find a man who can care for her. Will William have a change of heart and give into his children’s goals? Well, the show isn’t called Promising Lawyer and His Housewife Sister.
Of course it’s not a new tale-even when it premiered in 1983- but still, this kitchen sink comedy-drama is full of grit and compassion–in addition to some phenomenal dancing. It also raises awareness for social justice and female empowerment. Perhaps these issues are more highlighted by Lydia Diamond than they were in the original. Still, they serve as timeless reminders of the continued struggle for equality and equity.
With three Broadway shows under his belt, young Bello is already a Broadway veteran. He is the definition of a triple threat (singer, actor, dancer) and he does all of them with equal mastery. Jackson and Fleming also have some moments of fancy footwork in the spotlight. Walker and Wright Joseph, each of whom have dynamic voices, have some beautiful moments together and Henry is given a meaty 11:00 number that brings down the house.
Henry Krieger, who also composed Dreamgirls, echoes similar melodies from that show and audiences will likely leave humming their favorites as they exit. Robert Lorick wrote original lyrics.
How wonderful it is to hear a full overture at the beginning of a show. At times, the show feels a bit bogged down, likely due to some extraneous songs which could easily be trimmed to a brief scene. It also doesn’t help that certain numbers are performed by exquisite dancers who lack the vocal demands of the song. Once the big, ensemble numbers reignite the story, all is forgiven.
The Tap Dance Kid is a marvelous slice of Broadway history that is sure to entertain. While it might not be primed for a current Broadway revival, it’s a blessing that Encores! Artistic Director Lear DeBossonet has chosen to breathe it back to life.
The Tap Dance Kid runs through Sun. February 6th at New York City Center 131 W. 55th St. between 6th/7th, NYC. nycitycenter.org