Executive Summary: The Athenaeum Theatre houses many performance companies and multiple stages. Leaving after the show, we were walking past some other patrons coming out of another show and I commented, “I don’t know what show they just saw, but ours was way better.”
The Athenaeum Theatre, which I’ll assume is named after the Greek goddess of heroic endeavor, Athena, is very appropriate for a Chicago Tap Theatre show. Last year I discovered them during their production of The Hourglass and the Poisoned Pen, their comic book superhero tap opera. After being completely engrossed in the adventures of The Hourglass fighting for justice in her knee-high yellow tap boots, accompanied by her sidekick Daphne in her Chuck Taylor tappers, I wondered if this year’s heroes, Red and her Mother Goose cohorts, would be able to keep my attention through a fairy tale tap dance opera.
The show was tucked away in the same third floor, 75 or so seat theater. No elevators so give yourself a few extra minutes if you’re out of shape or bringing old Aunt Ethyl. Stadium seating and only about 7 rows deep, so not a bad seat in the house. I sat in the front row again, in the same seat with the same duct tape, but I think they repaired the missing armrest since my last visit. Which is great since my arms get very tired from all the clapping. The setting was similar – a simple plywood stage with minimalist set.
The premise here is simple enough: Little Red Riding Hood, or “Red” as she’s called in world of tap opera, steals Mother Goose’s book of fairy tales, and as she taps her way through the forest encountering her fellow characters, she frees them from their story lines and respective fates by tearing pages from the book, creating a her own fractured fairy tale and obviously pissing off Mother Goose.
And in case you aren’t familiar with the tap opera format, there’s no dialogue – the entire story and character development is told through their non-stop tap routines, along with some fantastical costumes and some pretty darn good acting. Oh, and all to an original score written for and in collaboration with the company. No need to be polite – cheering for your favorites or booing the bad guys is explicitly encouraged.
Act I was definitely entertaining, but now that I know what they can do I kept waiting for them to bust out the big numbers. It wasn’t unlike seeing your favorite artist in concert. Say, Neil Diamond. Sure he may throw you a bone early in the show – maybe a “Forever in Blue Jeans” or “I’m A Believer”. He’ll keep you on your feet, pseudo rockin’ out, but the real action starts when the energy starts to build, finally bursting out with a little “Cherry, Cherry” and climaxing in the splendor of “Sweet Caroline”.
That was embarrassing. I can’t believe I just compared Chicago Tap Theater to Neil Diamond. What a digression. I apologize. I also just realized I called the costumes “fantastical”.
What I’m trying to say is that I enjoyed Act I, but in Act II I asked them to bring it and they done brought it. An angry Mother Goose tapping down Red, finally leading to a full-on no tap-out confrontation with the whole cast. Good effin’ times, my friend.
I read a couple other reviews of the show and concur with the Chicago Reader who gave it their coveted backwards R recommendation. But I read a review in the Chicago Tribune that gave the show 2-1/2 stars. I hope that’s out of a possible 2 stars, but I’m doubtful because the reviewer seems to have a problem with CTT adding a non-sanctioned woodsman character to the play, and further references a “muddled message” from inconsistencies in the otherwise entertaining character transformations. Serious? You went to a fairy tale tap dance opera, and you’re worried about inconsistencies in character development and a “muddled message”? Here’s a pretty clear message for you – why don’t you give your snooty arts critic steno pad a rest, turn on your heartlight and enjoy a show for what it is - some pretty damn good tap dancing, a creative storyline, and a chance to kick back for a couple hours at a unique theater experience you won’t find anywhere else.
Ignore the Chicago Tribune – they’re in bankruptcy so you can’t trust anything they say these days. If you ever get a chance, check out my new friends at Chicago Tap Theatre – they pay their bills and will show you a good time.
Unless they revive the production you missed out on this one, but be sure to catch their new show Beyond the Blue on July 18. Come join me.