New York City Center Encores! has begun its 2022 season with a reboot of the 1983 musical The Tap Dance Kid.
Let’s start with the best: The great Joshua Henry’s 11 o’clock number, “William’s Song,” a gut-wrenching revelatory song sung by the title character’s emotionally distant father. Henry endows the number with the emotional punch of “And I Am Telling You” from Dreamgirls. Since Henry Krieger wrote the music to both songs the striking similarity is understandable. Of course, Tom Eyen wrote the Dreamgirls’ vivid lyrics and librettro; Robert Lorick wrote the words for the pleasant, plot-moving score of The Tap Dance Kid.
The Tap Dance Kid—book by Charles Blackwell, based on the novel Nobody’s Family Is Going to Change by Louise Fitzhugh—is a simple domestic tale now reset in the 1950’s, gussied up with the brilliant tap choreography of Jared Grimes and the keen, vivifying direction of Kenny Leon. But, even under Leon’s artful hand and Grimes’ beautifully performed numbers, Tap Dance Kid remains a defiantly unimaginative story.
Willie Sheridan (Alexander Bello) is a ten-year old youngster who is far more interested in dancing than his school work while his father William wants him to forget about dancing and study to become a lawyer like himself. Meanwhile, Willie’s older sister Emma (a brilliant Shahadi Wright Joseph) loves school and wants to emulate her father’s career but is virtually ignored by her hidebound dad.
Caught between her husband and her children is Ginnie (Adrienne Walker, solid and honey-voiced) who loves her husband and his plans for his children, but also understands Willie’s fascination with tap dancing and Emma’s proto-feminist frustrations. Ginnie had a short career as a tapper with her brother Dipsey (an effervescent Trevor Jackson) and their legendary, beloved Daddy Bates(DeWitt Fleming Jr., charismatic in a cameo role, dancing with élan).
Forbidden to dance, his tap shoes taken hostage by his strict father, Willie uses all his wiles to keep dancing and study at Dipsey’s feet. Dipsey, meanwhile, is rehearsing a do-or-die show that he is contracted to assemble to sell shoes. Dipsey hopes his staging will impress the powers-that-be and give him and his loving girlfriend Carole (a totally lovely and warm Tracee Beazer) a solid future on Broadway.
Of course, father thaws, Dipsey’s show is a raving success, and little Willie gets to show off his tap prowess. Even young Emma gets some much-needed respect from her formerly cold-hearted dad.
Derek McLane’s simple, evocative scenery—almost all flown in, including cloud backdrops—does capture the period, although the script as adapted by Lydia R. Diamond has a few laughable anachronisms.
DeDe Ayite’s costumes also work, particularly as they express Emma’s mini-revolt when she prefers slacks over skirts for school. However, her rehearsal outfits for the dancers show are more out of an earlier period than the leotards and tights worn by dancers in the fifties. Her spiffy finale costumes were just extravagant enough.
Allen Lee Hughes’ lighting is terrific, catching the moods and exuberance of Grimes’ audience-pleasing ensemble numbers.
Joseph Joubert, guest music director, imbued Krieger’s unmemorable but well-sung and danced score with energy and wit, finding every nuance and emotional resonance.
Unfortunately, little Alexander Bello, a fine actor and singer, is not a knock-out, natural tap dancer. He did the steps but seemed uneasy. In any case, Bello’s every step was greeted by uproarious approval by the audience who loved every minute of this Encores! Tap Dance Kid.
Entertaining it is; emotionally satisfying it isn’t.
The Tap Dance Kid (February 2 – 6, 2022)
New York City Center Encores!
New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-581-1212 or visit http://www.NYCityCenter.org
Running time: two hours and 30 minutes including one intermission