Thunder! A Musical Memoir
nytheatre.com review by David Fuller
August 16, 2007
There is no doubt that Jimmy Tate is a superlative tap dancer, but then, we knew that going in to Thunder, A Musical Memoir, his latest show, since Tate was Broadway's Tap Dance Kid. Here, several years and many shows later, Tate performs in a 45-minute tour-de-force that centers around his tapping, but also features his acting and singing, taking us on an emotional journey of psychological exploration into past loves lost: his girlfriends and his now-deceased mother. Co-created by Cynthia Robinson (playwright) and Greg Allen (director), Thunder makes the most of Tate's considerable talents and brings in three actors to orbit around this hurricane of emotional energy, interacting with him as his girlfriends (Cindy Ball), his mother (Christa Victoria), and his alter ego (Cezar Williams).
Tate, who wrote the songs, accompanies himself on guitar. His music propels his story while his amazing tap dancing is the emotional outlet in arias of foot virtuosity. Yes, the stage does "thunder" at times as Tate tries to cope with his relationships. Thunder is an entertaining one-act, seamlessly staged by Allen, with appropriate lighting by Cletus Karamon. The set (not credited) is simple, just a raised platform down stage center, but with Karamon's lights that is all that is needed to change the scenes and the moods. The costumes (also not credited) work for the characters, including a nice change when the mother figure becomes ethereal. The cast supports Tate well and all three deserve credit for their work in what is obviously a labor of love.
The angst-ridden story of a young man working through relationships with girlfriends and with his mother is certainly not new. What is fresh here is the chosen medium of acting, singing and tap dancing—perhaps not novel, but certainly not done very often.
As this piece evolves, I would encourage Tate to embrace the audience more. Simply put, Tate needs to use those expressive eyes to look out more and include the audience in his journey. Right now, we watch the wonderful work on stage from a distance that prevents us from caring—sort of an odd paradox, especially in a small theatre. Also, I would encourage Tate not to play all his songs at the same speedy tempo. Many of his lyrics just go by too fast for our comprehension—a problem when the lyrics are integral to the story.
But, quibbles aside, this is a great step in the creation of the piece and well worth watching. Plus, there is a message about which it never hurts to be reminded: the enduring power of love.