Chicago Theatre Review
Chicago Tap Theatre brings the tip top of holiday cheer with ‘Tidings of Tap’
Tidings of Tap by Chicago Tap Theatre
At the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Theater
Ran December 9-11, 2011
Review by Darcy Rose Coussens
Tidings of Tap celebrates the season with top-notch tapping and creative takes on holiday favorites each year
As a wonderful alternative to sentimental holiday productions, Chicago Tap Theater’s annual holiday show brings together the best carols of the season in a fun show full of truly outstanding tap dancing. Mark Yonally founded a very unique company, and his artistic direction and choreography keep each of their shows fresh and exciting. Tidings of Tap is a traditional favorite in their season, bringing back favorites such as their a cappella rendition of “Carol of the Bells” each year and appealing to Chicagoans of all ages. This family-friendly show is an energetic flurry of tap and music to get you in the holiday spirit.
This year CTT is committed to providing live music for each of their shows, something I believe adds a great deal to the performance for such a percussive art form. The band featured a keyboardist (talented composer and music director Andrew Edwards), as well as musicians playing harp, violin, bass, and clarinet. Dancers also stepped in and out of the band to sing and play guitar, and violinist Samantha O’Connell was featured tapping in some pieces, as well. It was great to have such a blend of talent, and the performance was dynamic musically as well as through the expert choreography and skilled dancers.
This show does a great job mixing up holiday carols. There are Christmas-themed pieces such as “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and one of my favorites, “You’re a Swingin’ One, Mr. G” which involved an interesting arrangement of “Mr. Grinch” and lots of funny expressions; Hannukah songs, including “Hannukah, Oh Hannukah” and “Kiever Dreydlekh” (Dreidels of Kiev); and just plain winter celebrations, such as “Winter Wonderland” and “Snowflake Suite.” This is a great show for all ages, and at the end everyone is welcome to join the cast on stage to perform the Shim Sham, a standard favorite for tap dancers everywhere. It was exciting for tap dancers from seniors to six-year-olds to get up and tap themselves, since the choreography was so catchy you wanted to try it yourself!
The company members are extremely personable, especially Mark, who came out to talk to the audience himself. To cover costume changes, he improvised a solo to “Christmas Time is Here,” which was as impressive as the choreographed numbers, and the two newest company members played name that tune with the audience by tapping favorite carols. Every bit of CTT’s shows are enjoyable, and they produce a varied season that includes a story-based show which will be narrated live this year by Marc Smith, creator of Poetry Slam. Their shows have a laid-back feel but the dancing is always meticulously polished and often involves unbelievably fast feet!
Tidings of Tap also featured a few outside youth performing groups on different nights. The performance I saw featured Footprints Tap Ensemble from Libertyville, and they were excellent. While the show was a bit pricey at $35 for adults, $25 for seniors, and a discounted $20 for students and dancers, I would still be willing to spend that kind of money to see some of the best tap dancing Chicago has to offer. There’s not a whole lot of it out there, and this group brings more than just good tap dancing– it brings innovative and fun themes and concepts. I appreciate the variety and spirit CTT has to offer, and considering how well its three holiday shows sold, it seems Chicago values it as well.