OCT's 'Riffin' & Tappin'' is nonstop fun

"Fabulous Feet" is one of the numbers in "Riffin' & Tappin'," which opened Friday at Oregon Cabaret Theatre, but it's also a perfect description of the show itself — two hours of high-energy dancing, hot music and nonstop fun.

Artistic Director Jim Giancarlo is joined by old friends and colleagues Suzanne Seiber, Paul Jenny and Tom Freeman, along with Christopher George Patterson and Thomas MacKay. Jenny, Freeman and MacKay are the band. Seiber, Giancarlo and Patterson are the feet.

From the first moment of the first song, "Fascinating Rhythm," you know you are in for a treat. Then Giancarlo steps forward to give you a bit of an introduction to tap dancing in "The Language of Tap" — sort of a Tap 101.

Tap dancing is a uniquely American art form. The format evolved at the turn of the 19th century, taking a bit from everything from clog dancing to soft shoe to African rhythms. It was the perfect match to the ragtime and jazz evolving at the same time. Although it all looks serendipitously improvised, tap has basic steps, emphasizing heel or toe, soft or hard contact, stationary or traveling, with lovely evocative names such as shuffle, flap, toe punch, Cincinnati, Susy Q, Shorty George and grapevine. A tap routine is a precisely choreographed combination of these individual moves with intricate syncopation. Like flamenco, tap dancing is a musical form for the feet.

Tap can be as good-natured as "Bojangles" Robinson, as adorable as Shirley Temple — and Patterson and Seiber have a delicious turn as both in "Doin' the New Lowdown" — as fanciful as dancing penguins or as sensuous as Gene Kelly, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. "Riffin' & Tappin'" does a good job of offering up all the variations (well, maybe no penguins) to some really impeccable music. It is sophisticated and polished.

They've got everything from "It Don't Mean a Thing" to "My One and Only" to "One Note Samba" to Seiber's absolutely riveting "Mean to Me."

In between the dance numbers, there is some great music with Freeman's inspired percussion, MacKay's great keyboards and Jenny's versatility on vocals, guitar, trumpet and whatever. Jenny has a smoky voice and a deliciously sly delivery. His "Lulu's Back in Town," "Small Day Tomorrow," "I'm Flexible" and "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" — with Seiber's languid dance moves — are all standouts. There is also a great duo with Giancarlo on "One for My Baby."

I could go on and on, describing the delight in each and every number, but do yourself a favor and go see the show.

Locals are already familiar with Seiber and Giancarlo's talents, but Patterson, who has been at the cabaret in "Five Guys Named Moe," "Smokey Joe's Café" and most recently directing, choreographing and performing in "A Brief History of White Music," is an outstanding addition. Seiber and Giancarlo are wonderful dancers. Patterson is extraordinary. His joy is positively infectious and you can almost feel the audience levitate every time he takes the stage.

What is particularly delicious about this cast is that everyone is attractive but these are not picture-perfect cutouts. They are not kids. They are all experienced performers. They are all real people.

The elegant art deco set is, of course, courtesy of Craig Hudson, who also did the lighting. Costumes are by Kerri Lea Robbins with the intricate quick changes supervised by Karrie Smith. Freeman, in addition to performing, did the music direction and the sound design.

As always, the cabaret's resident chef, James Rustin, has come up with a varied menu for pre-theater dining. The special on opening night was steelhead and it came to the table perfectly cooked — not easy when you are cooking for a crowd. There are some new salads and appetizer plates for service at intermission as well as the usual tempting selection of desserts. Dinner is served beginning at 6:30 p.m., brunch is served prior to the Sunday matinee and starts at 11:30 a.m.

"Riffin' & Tappin'" continues through Oct. 31. It is vibrant and joyful entertainment. Put this one on your list.

For more information on tickets, call 541-488-2902 or visit www.oregoncabaret.com.

Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at rbkent@mind.net.

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