nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
April 11, 2010
Time Step, the delightful tap-musical-inside-a-vaudeville-show by Parallel Exit, is ensconced right now on the stage of the New Victory, that perfect glittering little jewel box of a theatre in Times Square. If you know Parallel Exit, then you know that their work is not strictly for children but offers delights for audiences of all ages. And if you know the New Victory, then you know they specialize in challenging fare from all over the world that helps young audiences to better appreciate the diversity and boundlessness of theatrical imagination. Talk about a match made in heaven.
This charmer of a show begins well before the lights go down, as Master of Ceremonies Joel Jeske warms up the audience, from balcony to orchestra, with antics that betray his own roots as an entertainer (he has clowned in both the Ringling Bros. & Big Apple circuses). Jeske and his sidekick Michael Dobson (who also plays live percussion in the show) engage in physical comedy in the auditorium and on stage that's not only funny but, significantly, teaches the kids in the audience about what's to come: youngsters who didn't grow up with silent films or wordless cartoons like "Tom & Jerry" may not know that it's possible to tell a compelling and entertaining story without dialogue.
Which is exactly what Time Step does. We're introduced, in a flashback to 1948, to the Dapper Tap Trio—three suave young dancers who perform breezy, effortless steps to a jazzy accompaniment; their work brings to mind Gene Kelly's movies from the same period. An elegant video montage shows us how the Dappers have coped with the passing of time, until we meet them as they are in 2010, all nearly 80, one supposes, living together in a small apartment. The one of the left, Curtis, is still spry but needs a walker to navigate across the floor. The one on the right, Lester, is relatively mobile, but he's given to bouts of crying and he doesn't move as fast as he once did. The one in the middle, Max, uses a cane; he's the one who's most firmly anchored in the present.
The present is not particularly encouraging, however. After observing the gents in their morning ritual—a brilliantly choreographed "ballet" that finds all three men in their chairs, eating breakfast, doing a crossword puzzle, sipping (noisily) on coffee or tea, and the like, all in synchronized rhythm—we discover that they are about to be evicted from their apartment because they have no money. Fortuitously, they also find out about a talent show at the nearby senior center that offers a cash prize to the winner. Can the Dapper Tap Trio get themselves back into shape and win the contest?
Director Mark Lonergan alternates between scenes of the elderly trio training for the competition and flashbacks of routines from their heyday before bringing us to the actual night of the contest. Time Step is ultimately about how what and who you love can melt the years away despite reality's limitations; it's a sweet, heartfelt, hopeful show filled with joyous energy and comedy firmly entrenched in our oh-so-human frailties.
There are several tap routines that highlight the lighter-than-air trio, choreographed by Ryan Kasprzak, Brent McBeth, and Derek Roland, and performed by McBeth, Roland, and Danny Gardner. In between come the physical theatre segments, wordless except for the occasional exclamation (and completely underscored with appropriate music). Jeske and Dobson turn up in a variety of roles, with Jeske especially delightful as the MC of the talent show (he's the only character in this story who speaks, and what he says is very wry indeed).
The show flies by in about an hour, testament to the grace and talent of the performers and the excellence of the production: under Lonergan's eye, designers Keith Truax (lighting), Ron Amato (projections), Duane McKee (sound), and Juliet Jeske (specialty tuxedos) build a world for the Dapper Tap Trio that's perfectly evocative and appropriate.
If you're a kid, come for the clownish antics and stay for the exciting tap sequences; if you're a grown-up, come for the glorious dancing and stay for the silliness surrounding them. Either way, just come. Time Step is a treasure, one that we should be very grateful that the New Victory is presenting to us.