SARASOTA — Tap dancing can be a delightful kick, but it's one art form where less is definitely more, as demonstrated by Pulse: The Beat of Song and Dance, now being premiered at Asolo Repertory Theatre.
Conceived, written and choreographed by Broadway dancer Noah Racey, the show mainly features tap, and it has a talented, likeable cast, including Racey in the leading role, tapping away to songs ranging from standards such as the old straw hat and cane number Once in Love With Amy to Regina Spektor's moody Eet.
There's nothing wrong with the dancing in Pulse, which includes a seven-piece band onstage, but a whole show of tap gets to be a bit much. All the energetic hoofing and smiling is also undercut by Racey's narrative, which doesn't have much of a point. This is somewhat surprising since the revue was directed by Jeff Calhoun, an experienced hand whose Broadway credits include Newsies, Bonnie & Clyde and Deaf West's Big River.
The dancers' windy speeches about the meaning of what they do ("Our whole universe is made up of rhythm") interspersed with snippets of maudlin autobiography quickly become tedious. There's a self-consciousness to their relationship with the audience that leads to shtick like a clapping routine by Racey that goes on much too long, or his awkward riff on being a stuttering child. All the talk feels like padding between dance numbers, which can be quite flashy individually but don't flow that well from one to the next. The dancers do the singing, with mixed results.
Racey has resurrected some classic gems for his show, such as Necessity (from Finian's Rainbow), a jaunty duet by him and Danny Gardner, and Drum Crazy, a Fred Astaire number from Easter Parade, with the dancers joined by the band's percussionist Jason Yudoff and drummer Jon Berger. There are some unexpected songs, such as the downhome funk of You Can Love Yourself by Keb' Mo', performed by Racey on washboard along with Gardner, Christopher Erk and Anthony J. Russo. Racey and Lauralyn McClelland dance a pas de deux to a sultry sax solo from Melody Gardot's Baby I'm a Fool.
Russo, an alumnus of Tap Dogs and Cirque du Soleil's Banana Shpeel, is an especially appealing presence, with an unconventional style that comes across as fresh and spontaneous in a tap solo without music, inspired by his misspent school days in detention. Tobin Ost designed the sleek set and costumes, such as the sharp gray suits worn by all in Puttin' on the Ritz and Rich Girl. The show's big finish is a finger-snapping, toe-tapping On the Sunny Side of the Street.
The run time of Pulse is listed at 90 minutes with no intermission, but the matinee I attended this past Wednesday was about 10 minutes shorter, because one of the six cast members, Frances Bradley, was out with a knee injury. She is to be replaced next week by Melinda Sullivan from So You Think You Can Dance.
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.