Joy. Pure joy. That’s what you can expect from Love Taps, a tap-dancing show playing a limited revival this weekend and next at NOCCA’s Nims Blackbox Theater.
The brain behind all that good feeling is Heidi Malnar, NOCCA dance teacher and the founder and artistic director of Theatre on Tap, a tap-dancing company formed three years ago. She created and choreographed Love Taps, she says, to be a sort of “giant love fest.” Based on my experience at a dress rehearsal of the show, I’d say that she has succeeded.
Upon entering the theater, I was welcomed like family. There was little time to linger: Backstage pulsed with urgency as dancers paced back and forth between dressing rooms and stage. Love Taps features, among others, 11 teenagers, all of them NOCCA students studying dance and musical theater. I stopped to chat with a trio of them, and was struck by their eloquence and passion.
How were they all feeling? “Excited!” they replied virtually in unison. Ross Quinn, a NOCCA junior who performed in the original Love Taps production three years ago, said that he’s looking forward to seeing the ways in which the current numbers contrast with the way they were done before, particularly a piece called “Speed dating.” Sophomore Aaron Richert is a newcomer to Love Taps who, when not tapping, harbors a passion for writing music. The three soon hurried off to join the ensemble and I was left to quietly make my way to a corner in the audience, to be a fly on the wall during dress rehearsal.
Love Taps is not merely a dance performance, but also a singing and theatrical one. Ainsley Matich and the Broken Blues play throughout the dance pieces, while Arsene Delay sings vocals. Her voice slides into every corner of the theater like melted butter. During alternate nights, guest artists Nora Clarke, founder of Tap That Brass Band, and Adrianne Mitchell, founder of Jazz City Tap Fest, will perform, giving audiences three different types of tap dancing. Mitchell is director of the Kelly School of Dance, and her “Soles of the South” dancers will take the floor this weekend.
Each Love Taps piece tells its own story, aided by the singers and actors. Each casts its own spell (and, be forewarned, audience members may be pulled onstage to participate in the magic). These are stories of fantasy, budding romance, finding courage out of grief, the strength of friendship, and the hope and optimism of youth.
Ultimately, it’s an evening of tireless energy and heartfelt messages that lift the spirit. The performers come together as an onstage family, not merely talented individuals.
On this particular night, when Act I was done, I rose from my chair to make a stealthy exit, but was halted by the production manager.
“Leaving so soon? Aren’t you going to stay for the second act?” he inquired in a whisper. I told him that I wanted Act II to be a surprise, and his smile followed me out the door and back to my bicycle. So the second part of Love Taps will be new to me. But there is one thing that I know it will offer, to me and anyone else who attends.
Joy. Pure joy.