Chicago Tap Theatre (CTT)’s Love Taps is a play without words, or, as they call it, “an interactive tap dance opera.” The storyline is pretty typical: boy (Gio) meets girl (Gwen) (played by real-life sweethearts Jennifer Pfaff Yonally and Mark Yonally), boy and girl date, girl breaks up with boy because he’s an important web designer who doesn’t have time for her, girl gets back in the saddle through an online dating portal boy developed, girl and boy create fake profiles and end up on a blind date, boy throws away technology to be with girl, and they live happily ever after. You know, typical…
Along the way we meet notable singles in Gwen and Gio’s circle, including a bartender and a waitress, a bellhop, a secretary and her intern, and two “life of the party” players. Akin to the tap version of a story ballet, feet are the primary mode of communication. The action moves fast, and characters speak with their feet, facial expressions, and repeated characterized gestures. It sometimes felt like watching The SIMS… as though we are voyeurs of the fast motion lives of superficial memes.
A major highlight, when the tap-as-speech truly works, is a brilliantly constructed, laugh-out-loud scene in which all the characters go to the gym. The Jock (played by Jessica Williams) and The Bartender (played by Isaac Stauffer) are group fitness instructors fighting over participants, while tapping their way through step aerobics patterns and Zumba. It’s fun, hilarious, and clever beyond description.
Along the way we are treated to live accompaniment from Andrew Evans, Kurt Schweitz, and Jordan Lewis, as well as projections of the social media stream from the dating software Gio creates (which looks a whole lot like Twitter). In keeping with this theme, audience members have the rare opportunity to whip out their smart phones just before intermission, and decide the fate of these singles by hooking them up on dates together. A la post-modern chance operation, the fate of the show after intermission is undecided. Instead, the four dates that unfold are up to us to design, that is, until the finale when we learn characters’ destinies. And then, they do a really big, really impressive tap number as each couple shuffles off into the sunset.
Long story short: #lovetaps is totes adorbs.
First presented in 2010, this weekend’s showing of Love Taps benefitted from a bit of reworking and the addition of Edwards’ original score played live. Even though the piece spent four years on the shelf, it feels fresh, current, relevant, and new. CTT’s ability to continually push the boundaries of tap dance through the use of live music and narrative story telling differentiates them from the mainstay tap companies in town, and the packed-to-the-gills house at Stage 773 proves there is plenty of room for them at the Chicago dance table.