'Tap Dogs' steps up, delivers

November 06, 1997|By Judith Green | Judith Green,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It's not that the Tap Dogs are all that good. In the elements of classical tap -- elegance, precision, refinement, musicality -- they're a far cry from Fred Astaire.

A friend calls it "gangsta tap." You might also describe the Tap Dogs' idiom as construction-site clogging. Whatever -- it's a hoot, and it's grabbing an audience that didn't know it liked dance. It was great to see the Mechanic Theater full on Tuesday, and with people who were mostly younger than I am. At most classical music events and even most ballet, it's the other way around.

The Tap Dogs were originally Australian, but -- like Stomp, the street percussionists -- they have cloned. There are now four touring Tap Dogs companies, and choreographer Dein Perry is raking in the royalties. The troupe here has one member of the first company, Nathan Sheens, the tall, lanky redhead. The rest are Americans, and they have the same raffish charm as the Aussies, whom I saw almost a year ago in San Francisco.

(By the way, one of the "swings," which is a fancy word for an understudy, is David Covington, a 17-year-old graduate of Annapolis High School, who began taking tap lessons just four years ago. He'll be dancing at the Saturday and Sunday matinees.)

Part of the appeal of Tap Dogs is their unpretentiousness: the scruffy clothes, the blue-collar props, the casual competitiveness, the honest sweat. Even their occasional naughtiness, such as the urinal joke that opens the program, is more boyish than bawdy.

And was there ever a better excuse for a product placement than the Blundstone work boots worn by the cast?

The six guys dance on girders and ladders. One dances upside down. They form a human xylophone in one number, a cat's cradle with ropes in another. They dance in water and get the first couple of rows of the audience (who have been issued yellow slickers) very, very wet.

And in one duet, if you listen for it, the music is as delicate as a gamelan, the Balinese gong orchestra that sounds like a wind-chime.

The rest of the time, it's as loud as a Civil War bombardment. They do go a little overboard with the amplification, which is the curse of our time.

But otherwise, the Tap Dogs are a delight -- not much finesse, but a lot of fun. And you have nothing to lose but your hearing.

Tap Dogs

When: 7: 30 p.m. today and Friday, 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. and 7: 30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, 25 Hopkins Plaza

Tickets: $15.50-$34.50

Call: 410-752-1200

Pub Date: 11/06/97

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