Out of this World

Comets soar across the stage’s video backdrop to intense orchestral music that sounds like it’s from a superhero action scene. One by one, seven tap guys hoof and slide through the virtual galaxy, creating rhythms of cosmic proportions. If they look like Bad Boys, that’s because they are: Tap Stars: A Dance Revolution is the newest project by Rasta Thomas and his Bad Boys of Dance, best known for their show Rock the Ballet. “The essence of what makes this a Bad Boys production is the same—the performers are versatile and born to dance,” Rasta says. “But these Bad Boys have the exceptional superpowers of tap dancing.”

The Tap Stars in action.

We know Rasta Thomas as the rebel ballet star—the original Bad Boy—whose show Rock the Ballet has gotten new audiences excited about ballet since it opened in 2008. “With Rock the Ballet, we’ve disproved the stereotype that ballet is boring,” he says. “And we’re hoping to do the same thing with tap.” The Tap Stars’ mission is to entertain audiences—even non-theatergoers who know nothing about tap—while paying homage to the strong legacy and tradition that longtime tap lovers embrace. Last summer, Tap Stars premiered with a nine-week run in Hamburg, Germany. Now, the newest Bad Boys are looking to the future: What will become of the new show? Will American audiences embrace it like they did Rock the Ballet?

“We’re doing some of the most ridiculous steps we can”

Though he doesn’t tap himself, Rasta has been hoping to create a tap show for a long time. Tapping has even made its way into Rock the Ballet, with dancer Michael Keefe using it in solo sections. “I’ve been a fan of tap dancing ever since I saw Gregory Hines in White Nights,” Rasta says. He knew many tap dancers who didn’t have the performance outlets that dancers of other styles have. So when the producers of Rock the Ballet asked Rasta about ideas for a new show, he didn’t waste any time. Together, he and Michael called the best tap dancers they knew, who then suggested the best tap dancers they knew, and within a few months they had a cast, a title and a show concept.

“I wanted to find a common theme that united all tap dancers,” Rasta says. “And they all had a teacher that inspired them. So the idea of master and apprentice is the theme of the first half of the show.” Joseph Webb plays The Entertainer, who represents hoofers of the past and teaches his apprentices about their heritage. According to Tap Star Anthony Russo, “We give people what they expect in the first act—they expect classic top hats and tails. Then in the second act, we give them 2012, tap today, doing some of the most ridiculous steps we can.”

The Tap Stars.

“It’s like a good stew or a good lasagna”

Rasta knew he wanted to create an all-guy show—a “boy band” for dancers. “There’s something about the male bravura that’s exciting and electrifying, like Sunday night football,” he says. “It’s undeniable that these guys are athletes.”

When it came to setting his ideas on the dancers, however, Rasta had a tough decision to make. He could direct the show, but he needed a tapper to choreograph it. The solution? Giving each dancer an opportunity to choreograph and collaborate, creating one of the most diverse and unique tap shows today. In March 2011, Jason Janas and Michael Keefe arrived at the Bad Boys house in Linthicum, MD, to begin experimenting with choreography. Jason set the largest portion of the show, but each of the dancers took turns adding his own personal style. “It’s like a good stew or a good lasagna,” Jason says. “All the different ingredients mixed together make it so great.”

As director, Rasta was an active part of rehearsals. “His way of describing things kept us laughing on a pretty regular basis,” Anthony says. “He’d say, ‘I want something like this,’ and start kicking his feet around. And we’d say, ‘Oh, there’s a tap step like that!’ ” According to Michael, “Every day we would come in and someone would do some choreography. Then Rasta would set the formations and tell us what looked good—he knows what makes a show successful.” Adds Jason, “Everybody learned, everybody taught. And I think everybody grew from it.”

The Tap Stars.

“America and tap dance, they go together”

The resulting collaboration—the tappers’ choreography together with Rasta’s direction—couldn’t have found a more excited audience than the crowd last summer in Hamburg. “The audiences in Germany were incredible,” says Tap Star Christopher Erk. They would applaud for so long that it literally stopped the show. “Every night after the first number there’d be a point when we’d have to just stop and look at each other. It was a confidence builder that what we were doing in the studio was valid—people liked it,” he says. During the first week of shows, the group learned that their six-week engagement would be extended another three weeks—Hamburg just couldn’t get enough.

Now, the group is looking ahead. Next year, the boys will bring the show to tap festivals around the world. Their dream is to follow Rock the Ballet’s path and have multiple touring companies performing at the same time with year-round contracts.

The guys have high hopes that their revolutionary tap collaboration will earn fans in the U.S. and around the world. “I believe that a great product will prevail,” Rasta says. “I’m a firm believer in these talented dancers.” And if you ask Jason Janas, it’s a no-brainer: “America and tap dance, they go together.”

MEET THE GUYS:

MICHAEL KEEFE

Age: 24

Hometown: Westwood, MA

Superpower: Versatility—he brings other forms of dance into tap.

Fun fact: Michael wears green and white shoes in the show because he’s a die-hard Boston Celtics fan.

JASON JANAS

Age: 30

Hometown: Hopatcong, NJ

Superpower: Clean, sharp sounds. Shuffle wings are his specialty.

Fun fact: If he weren’t a tap dancer, Jason would be a writer. He’s currently writing a children’s book.

CHRISTOPHER ERK

Age: 30

Hometown: Southington, CT

Superpower: His right foot is the “money foot”—“it’s wicked fast,” he says.

Fun fact: Christopher knows kung fu.

ANTHONY RUSSO

Age: 27

Hometown: St. Charles, MO

Superpower: Sense of humor. “I got in trouble for it in school, but now it’s an appreciated trait,” he says.

Fun fact: He’s also a singer/songwriter and plays the guitar and the drums.

JOSEPH WEBB

Age: 33

Hometown: Upper Marlboro, MD

Superpower: The ability to draw the audience in and make them feel his emotions as if they were “in his shoes.”

Fun fact: Joseph loves to visit local farmers’ markets when traveling. He also studies energy healing modalities.

JUMAANE TAYLOR

Age: 25

Hometown: Chicago, IL

Superpower: Improvisation

Fun fact: The guys call Jumaane “The Bearded Hoofer.”

CARTIER WILLIAMS

Age: 22

Hometown: Washington, DC

Superpower: Toe stands

Fun fact: On the side, Cartier directs horror and dance films.

JASON LUKS (swing)

Age: 24

Hometown: Mendham, NJ

Superpower: Tap turns/pirouettes

Fun fact: Jason won the title of adult World Tap Champion in Riesa, Germany, at

the age of 16.

CHRISTOPHER BROUGHTON (swing)

Age: 25

Hometown: L.A.

Superpower: Vibrant stage presence

Fun fact: He’s a major St. Louis Rams fan.

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