“Tap Dogs,” which returns Monday to the INB Performing Arts Center, is not exactly your Fred-and-Ginger tap show.
Think of it as extreme tap-dancing. A better name might be “construction-site tap-dancing,” since the six dancers portray a construction crew, building a set throughout the entire performance.
Not just building a set, but also using it as a giant, metal percussion instrument. The dancers pound their way up metal ramps, across scaffolding and down ladders.
“It’s a tap rock concert,” said Nathan Sheens, one of the tour’s cast members, by phone from the road.
“It’s very industrial. It’s blue-collar – we’re just average guys who know how to tap dance and talk with our feet.”
There is no other talking in this show, aside from some hollering. Yet there is a rudimentary storyline and some character development. Each member of the crew has a persona: One is the foreman, for instance. Another is the goof-off.
This formula has proven immensely popular ever since Dein Perry dreamed up the idea back in Newcastle, Australia. He developed it for Sydney Theatre Festival in 1995 and then toured Australia.
Sheens has been there every step of the way. He was 20 years old, living in Newcastle, Australia, when Perry tapped him to be in his untested new show.
“Perry asked me to come on board, but it was supposed to be a three-month gig,” said Sheens. “And then we kept on touring, and went to Edinburgh, and kicked it at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.”
The show was a hit and went on to London’s West End, where it became a commercial smash. It has been touring the world ever since.
It has provided Sheens with many memorable moments over the years.
“Working with Stevie Wonder (at a Quincy Jones tribute), that’s one of the memories I’ll never forget,” said Sheens. “When the show was on Broadway, that was mind-blowing: six Australian guys coming over from Newcastle and being in a Broadway theater!”
Most memorable of all: the 2000 Sydney Olympics .
“We were part of the opening ceremony,” said Sheens. “We had scaffolding placed in the middle of the stadium. There were over 1,500 ‘dogs’ grinding with metal and scaffolding. Sparks were flying.”
Sheens has since done stints in other shows, notably in the Tony-winning “Billy Elliot,” but he always seems to return to his roots.
“It’s nice to be back with the boys,” said Sheens. “ ‘Tap Dogs’ is always close to my heart.”