Despite the title, New York on Tap is made in Britain. It features seven of the best UK tappers, a troupe of young students from Millennium Dance, plus American guests Barbara Duffy and Marshall Davis. But topping the bill are legendary old-timers Will Gaines and the Clark Brothers, all now over 70, who though long resident in the UK, learned their craft in the States in the golden age of swing.
It is the style of that era which has inspired artistic director Terry Monahan. His show is a showcase for ‘rhythm tap’, the early American style founded on the sound of syncopation, as opposed to the later Broadway ‘show tap’, which fused tap with modern jazz dance, bringing greater emphasis on body line and shape.
Feet may be first, but it’s the performer’s persona that delivers the dance. In an a cappella duet, Duffy and Davis match each other step for step; but they couldn’t be more different. Davis is laid back, loose-limbed and curiously introspective, a contrast to Duffy’s tauter, more ebullient sparkle. Of the rest, Diane Hampstead and Junior Laniyan stood out. Hampstead combines neatness with a sunny disposition, and Laniyan is a natural talent: he makes you feel the syncopation not just in his feet but through his whole body, arms twitching across the off-beats and shoulders catching the swing. Lorraine LeBlanc is scary in her rhythmic battle with drummer Matt Scanlon, while Teresa Jackson’s fey dialogue with bassist Malcolm Creese is too cute for comfort.
Is she warming up a theatre crowd or letting us in on a cosy studio chat?
Variety may be the point, but it also becomes disorienting. A piece of arty alternative cabaret from the Edinburgh fringe has Will Gaines’ staccato steps as accompaniment to performance poetry, and a brief turn by the Millennium Dance pupils tips the ambience into end-of-year student showcase.
The compere only adds to the oddly mixed tone: is she warming up a theatre crowd or letting us in on a cosy studio chat?
No doubts, though, when the Clark Brothers appear, white ties and tails, bringing back a little black magic to the finale. Showmen to the core, they sing and patter, and treat us to a sequence from their latest film (“with the Marx Brothers”). But in the end it was Will Gaines who impressed the most. Amazingly light on his feet – even when sitting in a chair – Gaines is by turns subtle and comic, and can play the audience without playing up to them: a real class act.