Chums Form Dance Projects and Riverside are up to new tricks for Dance Bites 2013. The Tap Pack is so not edgy. It's straight down the middle. And that's not a bad thing. Especially commercially. The audiences were such Riverside Theatres biggest space was needed. And, looking around, it seemed to be full, even for the weekday matinee I attended. The title of the show is a lame play on The Rat Pack and pays homage to their individual and collective sense of style and humour, not to mention the enormity of their talents. Well, ok, perhaps Pater Lawford and Joey Bishop weren't in quite the same class as Deano, Frank and Sammy. Discuss.
Jesse Rasmussen, Jordan Pollard and Thomas J. Egan are the creators and choreographers. The dance end of it, overwhelmingly, couldn't be more polished or more exciting. The script, much like the name, can veer towards the lame, but I'm sure The Rat Pack had to deliver lines that fell flat so, in a way, it's nostalgic. Of course, the danger in invoking the spirits of The Rat Pack is you invite comparisons. Probably my all-time favourite song-and-dance man is Sammy and, no matter how proficient these performers may be, it's a big ask to match the style and elegance of that short, skinny, one-eyed, black, Jewish man. Sammy could really dance. He could really sing. He was a great interpreter of a lyric. He could gag. Play drums and vibes. He was one of a kind and he could do it all.
The Tap Pack are, mostly, mind-blowingly excellent tappers and not bad actors. Probably as good as Martin, Davis, Sinatra, Bishop or Lawford. The singing's a bit more of an issue, in many cases; so pitching themselves as triple threats is, at least by the standards they're referencing, a bit rich. Mind you, to the best of my knowledge, Frank couldn't hoof to save his life and I don't remember Dean cutting a rug. And as a means to reconnecting oldies with the good ol' days and introducing new generations to an inimitably stylish epoch of cool guys and dolls, as well, perhaps, as the wonders of tap (speaking of Sammy, I'm reminded of a number in the lead up to which he opines, 'these are tap shoes; you don't see them much anymore; they're not used too much anymore; cats don't tap-dance; everything today is choreography', and he had a point) The Tap Pack is worth its weight in gold chains.
On an energy level alone, you have to admire Rasmussen, Egan and fellow performers Kuki Tipoki, Dion Bilios and Rohan Browne.
Rasmussen is quite the all-rounder, but his primary talents definitely reside, if I may say so, in the nethermost regions of his body. Mind you, as co-creator, he's clearly got something up top, too. I didn't take it that the idea was to correspondingly emulate specific members of The Rat Pack, but if anyone was matched to Deano, it was Browne, spending much of his time with tumbler, or bottle, in hand (and it was barely lunchtime). As an all-rounder, he probably impresses above all. Bilios fares well in the entertainment triathlon, too, and his is an engaging, likeable presence. Tipoki might be the lead singer of 'Australia's funkiest band', but he doesn't have the chops for standards, which are compressed and mangled by the wrong vocal technique. He also dips out of some of the higher degree of difficulty tap routines, but he has spades of charisma, which goes a long way towards compensating. Thomas J Egan is almost the opposite: what he might lack in sheer, seductive charm is easily vanquished by tap talent; he emerges as one of the best dancers, if not the very best.
A word of praise for The Tap Pack Bandits, too: musical director Chris King and players Dom Cabrera (drums), Maddy (basses) & Ellie ('bone) Shearer, Jason Sandercock (trumpet) and Kei Araoka (sax). The sequence in which Cabrera traded licks with (if I remember correctly) Rasmussen was, again, reminiscent of SD, Jr. doing same with a conga line of percussionists: the great Louis Bellson, Johnny Mendoza, King Errison and Jack Sperling. Both Cabrera and Rasmussen proved every bone in their body pulsates, almost metronomically, with rhythm and the good-natured competitiveness between them made it all the more scintillating. It was also a refreshingly improvisational moment in a highly-scripted show.
In the end, The Tap Pack emerges as an attractive tribute to the wise-guy bravado of the troupe's inspirational, inimitable forebears. Despite reasonably tight direction by Nigel Turner-Carroll, in a way, that's the problem, if there is one: those forebears were inimitable, so it might be as well, if the dizzying performance standards and savoir faire of a Sinatra or Sammy can't be roundly reached, if these boys played themselves, instead. After all, they've plenty to offer, in varying degrees.
Still, it's an audacious, semi-successful attempt and their cheeky approach and commitment is laudable. Perhaps what they really have in common with The Rat Pack, reaching all the way back to Bogey's original cabal, is heart, common purpose and camaraderie. And that's about enough. Regardless, we get to hear some of the greatest popular songs and jazz standards ever written: Straighten Up And Fly Right and The Lady is a Tramp being two that spring to mind. Or should I say swing?
A footnote. The sound was abominable. Distortion and extraneous noise was rife. And since it was as much about the patter and songs as the dance, that was inexcusable.
The Tap Pack
Written and choreographed by Thomas J Egan, Jordan Pollard and Jesse Rasmussen
Directed by Nigel Turner-Carroll
Venue: Parramatta Riverside Theatre | Church Street, Parramatta
Dates: 22 – 23 March 7:30pm
Tickets: $30 – $20