Tap Dance Wizard: Savion Glover Crashes Stodgy Broadway. Is It Ready for Da Funk?

Article excerpt

Ever since he was 12, savion Glover has been bringing down the house with his virtuosic tap dancing. Now he's all of 22, and he's got new worlds to conquer. Next week Glover opens on Broadway in a double debut: he's the star and the choreographer of a tap musical guaranteed to knock theater goers right out of their seats. The very first number strikes gold. There you are awaiting an evening of tap, thinking pleasant thoughts about Fred Astaire and squadrons of smiling hoofers in spangly vests, when a blast of hip-hop/funk music rips through the theater and Glover rockets into view. He's leaning forward, his feet are slamming into the floor, his arms are sailing crazily, and he's wearing baggy bermudas, a giant T shirt and a huge, exhilarated grin. Three more tappers show up--Baakari Wilder, Jimmy Tate and Vincent Bingham--and the stage explodes in a volley of hard-driving feet. Now Glover is on his heels, now he's on the inside of a foot and now he's balancing on a pointed toe, while his other foot hammers the floor as fast and precisely as the needle in a sewing machine. For all the cacophony, for all the heat of the street that fuels this number, there's no question about what's going on here: the best new choreography and the most glorious dancing Broadway has seen in years.

The show is called Bring in 'Da Nolse, Bring in 'Da Funk, and as Glover had hoped, it does just that. Dreamed up by Glover and director George C. Wolfe of the New York Shakespeare Festival, "Noise" celebrates tap by using it as a king of tracking device to evoke the history of black America. Slavery, the postwar migration north, Harlem in the '20s, Hollywood in its black-tap heyday and hard times in the present are all captured in a succession of gnettes, accompanied by slides and a text written by the rap poet Reg E. Gaines. A one-woman Greek chorus named Ann Duquesnay, fabulously adept at a range of musical styles, provides commentary in a flock of different personae, including Carmen Miranda. Oh, and the drummers, Jared Crawford and Raymond King. They play buckets, pots, pans and the soles of the dancers feet, with spectacular wit and sophistication. No wonder "Noise" won fill houses and standing ovations at the off-Broadway

Public Theater. But now the show faces a new challenge. Broadway audiences tend to be stodgier; they like what they already know (page 70). Will Glover's dancing-from-the-'hood go over with the same crowd that worshiped Jerry Lewis in "Damn Yankees"?

Wolfe is confident that the audience will be there. "Of all the shows I've worked on in my entire life, I've never seen one that appealed to as many different groups of people," he says. "Working class, uptown elite, black people, white people -- they were throwing themselves into the piece." All the same, he's made a couple of changes in the course of moving uptown. The subtitle -- "A Tap/Rap Discourse on the Staying Power of the Beat" -- has been dropped. And Gaines, who originally narrated his own text but earned poor reviews, has been replaced by Jeffrey Wright, winner of a Tony award for his role in "Angels in America." (Wolfe says only that Gaines was not available for the Broadway run. Many critics considered the narration itself expendable; Wright makes this torrent of black history and black anger sound less cusatory and more incantatory. …