Evaluate: Bill Robinson’s Rags-to-Riches Tap Tale

Every 12 months, Countrywide Faucet Dance Day is celebrated on or all-around May perhaps 25 — the birthday of Monthly bill Robinson, the most well known Black tap dancer of the first half of the 20th century. Rarely, nevertheless, do Faucet Day functions honor Robinson himself.

Considering the fact that 2018, three of the modern scene’s most well known tap dancers — Derick K. Grant, Jason Samuels Smith and Dormeshia — have been celebrating Faucet Working day in Harlem with a festival they simply call Tap Family members Reunion, a number of times of lessons and a present they collectively choreograph and immediate. This yr, it is all digital, and the show, introduced for the to start with time by the Joyce Theater, is streaming on demand from customers on the theater’s internet site via June 3.

This a person is about Robinson. It is identified as “The Mayor of Harlem,” soon after the honorary title that Robinson gained as an informal philanthropist in his community: showing up at a great number of advantage performances, masking back lease and bail. It tells his rags-to-riches story.

Or, truly, it tells a rags-to-riches tale that could almost be anyone’s. Maurice Chestnut, as Robinson, provides some routine narration to danced scenes of the practice experience to the metropolis, the major break, the Hollywood many years. The common structure is fundamentally scaffolding for a sequence of period-design dance quantities.

Luckily, Chestnut is an exceptional dancer. Not like Robinson, while, he’s not much of an entertainer, and his letter-but-not-the-spirit version of Robinson’s signature staircase dance, performed on a squashed model of the staircase, has by itself a squashed excellent. In spot of Robinson’s starched erectness and relieve, Chestnut is coiled like a boxer. Afterwards, when he drops the imitation and lowers his heels into his personal more absolutely free-flowing type, it is a launch and a aid — a higher position of the exhibit.

But Chestnut doesn’t have to have “Mayor of Harlem” by yourself. Alongside with an in a position jazz quartet led by the trumpeter Ryan Stanbury, the demonstrate options a six-member ensemble that basically handles most of the dancing — a faucet refrain significantly more competent and innovative, technically and rhythmically, than generally found on Broadway stages, when Broadway was open up.

With its skilled hoofers and rote dramaturgy, “Mayor of Harlem” is good but not so exciting, except in two respects. The initial is its frame of mind towards Robinson. In the 1996 Broadway musical “Bring in ‘da Sounds, Carry in ‘da Funk” — the seminal manufacturing in the youth of the administrators of “Tap Household Reunion,” a exhibit in which they performed and which taught them faucet history — Robinson was portrayed as a race traitor and sellout, a figure named Uncle Huck-a-Buck.

The program for “The Mayor of Harlem” calls him “a male who manufactured the best of conditions.” His Hollywood several years with Shirley Temple are introduced blankly, without the need of remark, but then, out of nowhere, the ensemble dances angrily in entrance of a inventory slide clearly show of Black protest and they and Chestnut raise Black Ability fists as a voice-above tells us that Robinson was “one of the greatest champions of justice and equality this region has at any time seen.”

There are skipped options here, because Robinson’s biography includes applicable proof — like the time he was halting a mugging and was shot by a white policeman. A additional serious treatment method of Robinson would think about his complexity and the conflicted views of him — how, for case in point, quite a few of people reward performances ended up for law enforcement charities.

This is not that variety of exhibit, but it is significant in an additional way. Faucet chorus dancing is a neglected custom, and “The Mayor of Harlem” is really about the ensemble, as all Faucet Loved ones Reunion productions have been. The focus on the chorus can have the rather deadening impact of dealing with track record as foreground. This demonstrate is most exciting when a member of the refrain breaks out, as when Amanda Castro impressively incarnates Jeni LeGon in the Robinson-LeGon variety from the 1935 film “Hooray for Like.” It could be the beginning of a star.

But an art sort is not only its stars. As significantly as I could overlook the visual appeal of Grant, Smith and Dormeshia in entrance of the curtain — canceling out a production’s weaknesses with their brilliance, as Robinson did — they caught the significance of their driving-the-scenes get the job done in the title of their to start with Tap Loved ones Reunion clearly show, “Raising the Bar.”

The Mayor of Harlem

Through June 3, joyce.org.