Tuesday, February 09, 1999

'Bring in 'da Noise' taps Tate's talent

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        'Da Noise is a couple of things. It's the noise of a beat — think the double pulse of a heartbeat or a fast-tappin' dancer — and it's the sounds of African-American history.

        'Da Funk probably comes from “lu-funki,” a word from Kongo languages that loosely translates to “the smell of sweat.”

        In Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk, there's plenty of sweat, as politically and socially complex African-American history is interpreted through spectacular tap dance.

        The multiple Tony Award winning show is making its first appearance in Cincinnati, brought here for a week by Fifth Third Bank Broadway at the Taft.

        Dancer Jimmy Tate, 29, has been with Bring in 'da Noise since its beginning. The former star of Broadway's Tap Dance Kid (he preceded tap phenom Savion Glover in the role) was understudying the teen-aged Mr. Glover on Broadway in Jelly's Last Jam in 1992 when Jam director George C. Wolfe started thinking about tap as an American folk art and about Mr. Glover's remarkable talent.

        (The kid with the dreadlocks already was a prodigy, tapping with the exuberance and expertise of his idols: tap icons Jimmy Slyde, Honi Coles and Gregory Hines. Somehow he celebrated classic tap even as he incorporated rap and reggae influences.)

        It was three years later before discussions about a project at New York's Public Theater, where Mr. Wolfe is artistic director, became serious. During the discussions, Mr. Glover is reputed to have said, “I want to bring in 'da noise, I want to bring in 'da funk.”

        Mr. Tate was there again, among the company of dancers and drummers who spent the summer of 1995 building the show from Mr. Wolfe's initial 11-sentence description.

Trip through history
        From those 11 sentences rose almost 300 years of history.

        The noise and the funk starts on the slave ships of the middle passage, continues through slavery, the emancipation, lynchings, the northern migration, the Harlem Renaissance.

        There's a side trip to Hollywood that takes a hard look at black performers who had to become “white bread” to get work in the early decades of the movie industry.

        Time moves on to the story of 30 years of a city block, from the '50s through the '80s, through integration, civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, riots, rap, Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan, Michael Tyson. One of the jobs during the weeks of workshops in the summer of '95 was telling stories, a la A Chorus Line.

        “We talked about being black and being in the business,” Mr. Tate says, and the dancers' and drummers' stories found their way into dance vignettes.

Sharing stories
        One story was about being a dancer on Broadway, coming out after the show and not being able to find a cabbie willing to take a black man as a customer. It has been translated into one of the musical's highlights, the explosive quartet “Taxi!”

        For Mr. Tate, Bring in 'da Noise “is quite a cardiovascular workout” he says laughing. But it's also a dream job for an African-American performer.

        Most musical dance jobs are fluff, he says.

        “Each revival has better winches, better sets, better costumes, but it's still silly: "Boy meets girl, loses girl, gets girl.' We haven't seen enough of that.”

        Bring in 'da Noise,he says, is about something else.

        “It's about our lives.”

        • What: Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk.

        • When: 8 p.m. today-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday.

        • Where: Taft Theatre, Fifth and Sycamore streets, downtown.

        • Tickets: $32.50-$58.50. Tonight is Kids Night on Broadway and offers one free ticket (ages 6-18) with purchase of one full-price adult ticket. Kids Night preshow activities begin at 6:30 p.m. 562-4949


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