Forget Bojangles and Fred Astaire in their starched collars and polished evening shoes. This is tap-dancing of a distinctly more Australian persuasion – boisterous and athletic, with a cheeky sense of humour that tempers the testosterone and converts it to charm. In place of a jazz band and ballroom, Tap Dogs has a construction-site-come-steelworks set, and a cast of lads in work boots who leave no slab, sheet or scaffold un-stomped.
‘Does for steel-capped boots what Gene Kelly did for umbrellas,’ declared London’s Independent on Sunday, and indeed it’s this workingman aesthetic that has helped Tap Dogs garner such global popularity. The show combines raw strength and power with the finesse and precision of tap, and the result has thrilled audiences in 37 countries.
The idea to juxtapose this traditionally rather gentlemanly dance form against themes of industry and construction was the brainchild of creator Dein Perry. Hailing from the Australian steel town of Newcastle, Perry found there weren’t many theatre opportunities for a boy who had learnt to tap-dance in a garage behind the local dance teacher’s house. He decided to leave school at 16, and found a job as a machinist and fitter at the steelworks, saving up to head to the bright lights of Sydney.
In the city, he landed a few small roles in Broadway-style musicals before getting his big break in 42nd Street. When that production’s run came to an end, Perry began working on his own project, Tap Brothers, a show with an industrial feel based on his own early dancing experiences. Though Tap Brothers didn’t exactly take the world by storm, it at least got him noticed by the right people. He was approached to co-choreograph the Australian jukebox musical Hot Shoe Shuffle, which would go on to become a hit in London’s West End and earn him a prestigious Olivier Award.
With the theatre community now backing him, Perry returned to Sydney and began working on his passion project once more, this time with director and designer Nigel Triffitt. They debuted their joint work, Tap Dogs, to rave reviews at the Sydney Theatre Festival in 1995, and the Edinburgh Festival later that year. This was followed by Australian tours, a West End season (which saw Perry scooping his second consecutive Olivier Award), and a run off-Broadway in New York. The Broadway Entertainment Group-produced spectacle shows momentum hasn’t slowed since then – to date, Tap Dogs has been touring almost solidly for 23 years and is widely accepted to be Australia’s most successful theatre export. In fact, it’s so popular with its home audiences, Perry was asked to choreograph a 1 300-strong cast of male and female Tap Dogs for the opening of the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
If parts of this story sound familiar, it’s because they form the plot of 2000’s Bootmen. Loosely based on Perry’s life (and directed by him), the film draws on the same powerful, irreverent tapping found in the theatre show. Its star, Adam Garcia (Coyote Ugly), even led the enormous group of tappers opening the Olympics, and later toured with the stage production from 2010 to 2011.
In their jeans, flannels and work boots, it’s easy to believe that the Tap Dogs cast just clocked out from the steelworks and are letting off steam before going down to the pub. As Perry once insisted to the London media, ‘These are regular guys who can tap-dance, not chorus boys dressed up to look like workmen.’ Either way, if you’re looking for a theatre experience that’s part dance extravaganza, part drum solo, part lads having a laugh, get your tickets today.
These boots were made for tapping
A scene in Bootmen shows its male lead, Sean, having a lightbulb moment at the steelworks: He accidentally drops a hammer on to a steel platform, and the sound sparks his imagination. He soon sets to work welding steel plates to the soles of his boots, turning them into heavy-duty tap shoes.
They’re not just any work boots though – Tap Dogs has a 23-year history with Blundstone, the ankle-high, leather footwear you’re likely to spy on the feet of any Australian who works with their hands. They’re some of the hardest working shoes you’ll ever wear, and yet the Tap Dogs cast wore out more than 5 000 pairs during their first 10 years of touring. We hope the Teatro and Grand Arena stages survive the tour!
Book your seat
Venue Grand Arena, GrandWest
Date 22–26 August
Venue The Teatro, Montecasino
Date 29 August – 9 September
Tickets Visit computicket.com