Although tap dancing is usually considered a peppy art form, Marc Kelly Smith makes tap dark. Smith has penned a tale around the behind-the-scenes antics of a 1930s traveling circus. And even though a circus is another entertainment mode more normally associated with merriment, Smith focuses us on the rivalry, the vagabond nature and the greed behind putting up the big top.
The show starts with the circus coming to town. Under the slick choreography of Mark Yonally, the human train click-clacks across the stage. Wearing a light on his head, Rich Ashworth drives the train through the hazy stage. The dancers clad in matching overalls follow closely behind him in single file. The footwork is impressive as the line of tappers create this audio-visual illusion of a well-oiled machine. At one point, the train rounds a curve offstage. As it arrives back on stage, the overalls have been peeled down to the waist to reveal distinct costumes above the waist. The performers have cleverly, and quickly, transitioned from the outside train vehicle to the inside train passengers. It’s a dazzling feat to kick off this high-energy show.
Smith, acting as a narrator, is the only one that speaks during the show. The rest of the performers must show us what is going on through movement. The emotionality in the dancing is unexpectedly intense. The passionate tapping shows fear, anger, and jealousy. Kirsten Uttich and Jennifer Yonally are a tightrope sister act. The self-absorbed Ms. Yonally and the put upon Uttich have some dicey interactions. Ms. Yonally continually tries to wreak havoc by missing a performance and then sabotaging another. On a beam of light on the stage, Uttich tries to tap her way across the ‘tightwire’ as Ms. Yonally smugly pounces on it. As Uttich falters, it feels every bit a death defying moment. We’ve been effectively duped into seeing the sisters as aerialists and they never left the ground.
Not all the dancing is anchored in rage. Mr. Yonally is both the choreographer and a performer. In the role of the clown, Mr. Yonally exudes this adorability with a sweet grin and regular pratfalls. At the beginning of the show, Mr. Yonally connects to the audience by playfully distributing fliers. His lighthearted spirit quickly steals the audience’s hearts. And when Smith yells at him to work harder, I, and probably the rest of the audience, want to come to Mr. Yonally’s rescue.
Although the show is about tap dancing, the music seeps into the forefront. Kurt Schweitz composed an original, memorable score by using a variety of instruments. The live music produced by Schweitz, Anna Gillan, and Bryan Pardo are robust notes of whimsy wrapped in foreboding. There are layers of complexity that pair well to tell this circus tale without words.
This tap dancing extravaganza is a one-of-a-kind experience. And please note TIGHTWIRE will only be performing next weekend. Make plans now to see it before the circus leaves town.
Running Time: Ninety minutes includes an intermission
At Stage 773,1225 W. Belmont
Written and narrated by Marc Kelly Smith
Directed by Rose Freeman
Choreographed by Mark Yonally
Original music by Kurt Schweitz
Friday and Saturday at 8pm
Sunday at 3pm
Thru March 29th
Buy Tickets at www.ChicagoTapTheatre.com
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