An eclectic audience, the largest in Chicago Tap Theatre (CTT) history, gathered Saturday for the one-night-only glam rock spectacular: “We Will Tap You!” Recognizing a gap in dance concerts celebrating LGBTQ Pride, Artistic Director Mark Yonally went all-in for a Queen tribute featuring a laundry list of special guests, a laser light show, and the delightfully uncouth, indispensable Mattrick Swayze (with Swayzettes Christopher Knowlton and Brian Hinkle amplifying Swayze’s onstage antics).
At one point or another more than 100 people crossed the Athenaeum Theatre’s stage that night, including nearly 30 tappers, several members of the Lakeside Pride Freedom Marching Band, the Chicago Spirit Brigade, trick bicyclist Matt Roben, drag queens on a tandem bike, and 28 singers from the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus, all backed by a five-piece live band featuring the magnificent pipes of vocalists Nicholas Davio and Elisa Carlson trading Freddie Mercury's lyrics. With all that going on, plus props, costume changes, and a so-so aerial tap number to "Killer Queen," the possibility of something – or many things – going awry was pretty high. At times the transitions were bumpy, but honestly, who the hell cares?!? Everything about “We Will Tap You!” was laugh-out-loud, jaw-dropping fun, unequivocally awesome.
From the tear-jerking tap and live chorus rendition of “Somebody to Love,” to Mattrick Swayze’s stilettoed “Fat Bottomed Girl” and hilarious commentary – case in point: fun facts about Freddie Mercury found on the Internet were followed by a full rendition of Vanilla Ice's career-making (and breaking) rip off "Ice Ice Baby" – CTT really “went there” and pulled out all the stops, dumping enormous resources and insatiable energy into one night.
From this writer’s vantage point, it paid off in spades. Although, it should be pointed out that even amongst all that beautiful, outrageous pageantry, one of the night's best moments was Yonally alone onstage improvising with five musicians to “Another One Bites the Dust.” Far before CTT began, Yonally got his kicks in Kansas City hoofing at jazz clubs, and when you peel back all the layers, the heart of his company is great tap dancing and great music. So for a relatively small company, putting together something the scale of “We Will Tap You!” is pretty amazing, and having the vision and clout to convince key players in the LGBTQ community to dive in with them is nothing short of extraordinary.
Swayze offered this poignant, ridiculous reminder: “Find your pride!" he said. "Look under your seats! Oh, there’s nothing there, is there? Because your pride is in your heart, not under your seat…” Pride is about celebrating the sweeping changes the queer community has fought for and gained, and embracing the absurdities in all of us. This year, with the celebrations overshadowed by an overwhelming sense of how much work remains, “We Will Tap You!” felt like a necessary and important gathering of arts organizations, perhaps one that should happen year after year (no pressure, Mark…).