Featuring more than a dozen classic Freddie Mercury and Queen songs, over 20 dancers, a squad of Chicago Spirit Brigade cheerleaders and more, Chicago Tap Theatre mounted its largest staging yet, a two hour tribute featuring the songs of Queen, for a one night only celebration during the final weekend of Pride month in Chicago. Surrendering to the camptastic good time, there was a little something for everyone to enjoy. The Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus belted out “Somebody to Love,” guest performance artist, hipster bicyclist, Matt Roben did rambunctious two-wheeling tricks to the tune of “Bicycle” and a triumphant “Bohemian Rhapsody” featuring the Lakeside Pride Freedom Marching Band, closed the show. This world premiere, one night only gem was the brainchild conceived by Tap’s Artistic Director, Mark Yonally and Music Director Kurt Schweitz. With ambitious choreography assembled from multiple choreographers and special guests, here is hoping Chicago Tap Theatre inaugural Pride showcase becomes an annual mounted Windy City tradition.
Starting with a dazzling array of rainbow colored lights and laser beams, as well as the swell of the “Flash Gordon” theme song, the show opened to a chorus line of a half dozen tappers, back lit, adorned in brightly colored costumes all designed by Emma Cullimore. Intermixed with the familiar ball changes and buffalo steps of traditional tap dancing, pelvic thrusts and hip grinds, establishing early on, this show is not your Grandmother’s tap. Lifted high above the troupe, host Mattrick Swayze, a lithe dancer and choreographer in his own right, sporting skin tight leggings and 6 inch stilettos! After the opening number, Swayze entertained with a series of comical double entendres to appeal to this largely gay and primarily adult audience. “Tap it up, flip it, & rub it down” Swayze jested as he playfully and repeatedly spanked his spandex covered backside, as the applause from the audience flowed while “straight ally love washes all over me.” It was at this point the woman sitting next to me leaned over to her teenaged daughter and loudly whispered “Don’t tell your father any of the jokes you’ve heard here tonight.” Oh, the things you overhear while seated on the isle of the third row.
Mark Yonally’s regular company of dancers including Aimee Chase, Kirsten Uttich, Jennifer Pfaff Yonally and Isaac Stauffer appeared to be having as much fun center stage as the audience did while watching them. “Under Pressure” and “Nerdy Language” were whimsical delights. Yonally’s improvisational act two dancing soliloquy to “Another One Bites The Dust” was quite rousing. The ladies also had their own opportunity to rock out, perched on the top of speakers, while tapping and thrashing to “Stone Cold Crazy.” Next, garbed in black, yellow and white, like feverishly tapping worker bees, the most ambitious ariel tap to “Killer Queen” with equipment borrowed from C5. The ariel didn’t lift that high, as it is essential for the foot to come in contact to the ground to create the clicking tap sounds, but I give them kudos for trying something new. The core crew reassembled in its entirety during the mash-up “Don’t Stop Me Now/We Will Rock You.”
While the tenacious tappers were switching costumes off stage, Swayze and his back-up Swayzettes, Brian and Christopher, entertained with a sexy, three man bump and grind, to the titillated cat calls of the enthused audience. Clearly inspired by YouTube sensation and Britain’s Got Talent finalist dancer Yanis Marshall’s fierce and outrageously sultry choreography, the tantalizing trio, all clad in gravity defying heels and tiny booty shorts to tease the audience with their finest assests, pardon the pun, amused both the crowd and themselves. Chicago Tap pro Isaac Stauffer even joined in with their platform heeled routine, a butt slapping, high kicking, Sweet Charity “Big Spender” influenced ballet bar number set to the tune of “Fat Bottomed Girls.” The four tempting, remarkably flexible, and chiseled men displayed nothing of “fat” but clearly enjoyed spanking their “bottom” during this routine. Later, the Swayzettes entertainment with a three minute rap-riff to the Vanilla Ice song, “Ice-Ice Baby” while wearing little overalls and hot pink fishnets, then displayed “caftan realness” while Swayze wore a tunic assembled from two Pride Flags.
Not to be outdone, three drag queens also joined the proceedings. The aptly named Amber Valentine, Belmont Red and Velveeta Velour mostly strutted and posed for comic relief, while sets were being tweaked behind the closed curtains. Kurt Schweitz’s musical arrangements stayed true to Queen’s original vision while not drowning out the essential tappity-tap-tap of the dancer’s feet. Nick Davio’s vocals were a smooth sounding delight. Jimmy Jagos set design and Dustin Derry’s dazzling lighting design the largest and most impressive to date for Chicago Tap. With more then 70 people on stage during the finale’s curtain call, Chicago Tap Theatre has a lot to be proud of. A highly entertaining and engaging enterprise, ranging from intimate to outrageous, I will state again my most emphatic plea this concept becomes an annual tradition.
We Will Tap You A Celebration of the Music of Queen played at the Athenaeum Theatre June 25, 2015