In the last months of his 20s, tap phenomenon Savion Glover is re-earning his reputation with a landmark display of what a passion for dance can mean in the theater.
The musical he envisioned with director George C. Wolfe in the mid-'90s was great without him in performances by companies that previously visited the Southland. Using tap to retell African American history from enslavement to ghettoization, it celebrated the spirit that created a new culture under oppression and is still unsurpassed as a tap musical.
With Glover on stage, however, the return of "Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk" gains the edge of an inimitable experience -- the chance to see someone long acknowledged as the best in the world challenge himself as if his whole future were on the line. At least that's what happened Tuesday, when a new touring edition of the show opened a limited run at the Ahmanson Theatre.
Of course, the rough, explosive, streetwise style of tap that Glover calls "hitting" dominates the performance, shared with a fine ensemble that includes powerhouse percussionists (Jared Crawford and Raymond A. King), a narrator of many voices (Thomas Silcott), a singer of many styles (Lynette DuPree) and a handpicked crew of dancers.
Keen teen Cartier A. Williams gives us a preview of the next tap generation as a kid out to save Hollywood from itself -- and from the soulless flash-tap satirized by Troy Swanigan and Maurice Chestnut.
Marshall L. Davis Jr. expertly fakes us out with a solo that suddenly turns into a desperate prologue to a lynching. (Beware in this show when the dances start out mellow; this is no nostalgia musical.)
Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards joins Davis, Chestnut and Glover in the evening's brilliant extended coda that begins with urban anger, then brightens into proof positive that you can share with others your thoughts, feelings, energy and soul through the movement of your feet. It's all so perfect and so easy that if tap lessons were on sale in the lobby, nearly everyone in the audience would sign up.
But nobody would expect to do what Glover does: look like he's dancing on water and moving against his will in the "Slave Ships" sequence; releasing a demonic fervor in a dangerously fast flyaway solo atop a suitcase in "Chicago Bound"; dancing in front of a mirror and evoking the styles of his tap mentors in "Green, Chaney, Buster, Slyde," as if he were naked before God and each step had to justify his existence.
The whole show, of course, is about the people who came before and defined new possibilities, so Glover's dancing and choreography connect him to the cultural history explored in Reg E. Gaines' poetic book and lyrics. Unfortunately, the words are often muffled at the Ahmanson, so some sequences don't play as strongly as they should.
The 30-year cavalcade of urban life ("Street Corner Symphony") still seems sketchy or unfinished, the Hollywood satire enormous fun but closer to the outrageous caprices of Wolfe's "Colored Museum" than the darker, more focused vision of African American history prevalent here.
However, the music by Daryl Waters, Zane Mark and Ann Duquesnay now seems stronger than ever -- a pseudo-pastiche that DuPree makes into a loving homage. And the sets, costumes, lighting effects and projections fill a bare stage with what you need to understand the context of a scene.
Noise? Yes. Funk? Sure. Also intelligence, vitality, humor and a deep social consciousness. Plus the flying dreads, scruffy beard and hunched shoulders of flat-out tap genius. Bring it on, or in. Dance-theater needs lots more of it.
'Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk'
Where: Ahmanson Theatre, L.A. Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown L.A.
When: Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Exceptions: Today, 2 and 8 p.m.; Feb. 9, 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 15, 2 p.m. only
Ends: Feb. 15
Contact: (213) 628-2772
Running Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes
Marshall L. Davis Jr.
Cartier A. Williams
Raymond A. King
Robert Reed III
Book and lyrics by Reg E. Gaines, Music by Daryl Waters, Zane Mark, Ann Duquesnay. Conceived and directed by George C. Wolfe. Choreography by Savion Glover. Music supervision and orchestrations by Daryl Waters. Musical direction by Tommy James. Vocal arrangements by Ann Duquesnay. Scenic design by Riccardo Hernandez. Costume design by Paul Tazewell. Lighting design by Jules Fisher/Peggy Eisenhauer. Sound design by Shannon Slaton. Projection design by Batwin + Robin. On-stage percussion: Jared Crawford. Dramaturg: Shelby Jiggetts-Tivony. Production stage manager: Ed De Shae. Executive producer: Aldo Scrofani.