“Turn and face the strange,” sings David Bowie in his classic song “Changes.” This mantra seems to have been a guiding force in the creation of Chicago Tap Theatre’s Changes, a science fiction tap opera set to the music of the iconic rock star. While the combination of tap dance, science fiction and David Bowie certainly is strange, it makes for an impressive and moving production that does late musician justice.
Chicago Tap Theatre Spins a Compelling Sci-Fi Yarn
Changes follows the arrival of a cape-wearing villain (Mark Yonally, who also choreographed the show) and his two scepter-wielding henchwomen on a planet inhabited by peaceful extraterrestrials. Yonally seduces one of the winged natives (Jennifer Pfaff Yonally) and begins to wreak havoc before the arrival of an astronaut (Kirsten Uttich) threatens his reign of terror. Though the story is straightforward, it includes many touching moments and proves a worthy platform for Chicago Tap Theatre’s skillful dance and Bowie’s masterful songwriting.
Chicago Tap Theatre coined the term “tap opera” to describe their approach to storytelling through the medium of tap dance. In Changes, dancers mimic conversations through the swift and dazzling motions of tap dance. Costumes reveal their wearers’ identity and affiliation. Lighting – ranging from psychedelic rainbows to geometric projections on the stage floor – conveys a scene’s mood. And Bowie’s songs are employed to capture a full range of emotions, from the triumphant “Heroes” to the mischievous “Fame” to the awestruck “Space Oddity.” Chicago Tap Theatre manages to convey a relatively complex story – replete with multiple plots and dynamic characters – completely free of dialogue.
David Bowie’s Music Makes for a Dynamic Soundtrack
The production’s soundtrack mixes David Bowie classics (“Space Oddity,” “Changes,” “Heroes”) with some lesser known tunes like “5.15 The Angels Have Gone,” “It Ain’t Easy,” and “I’m Afraid of Americans.” Most of the songs layer Bowie’s a capella vocals over new drum tracks and a live cello and violin and accompaniment. Although Bowie purists may take issue with altering his classic material, many of the songs receive fitting and creative musical treatments. “Under Pressure,” for instance, features a lovely string arrangement, and “Golden Years” sounds especially funky as interpreted by musical director Kurt Schweitz.
Changes effectively integrates the percussiveness of tap dance with Bowie’s music. The drum track in “Golden Years,” for instance, frequently drops out, allowing the dancers to fill in. Yonally and his two cronies (Aimee Chase and Heather Latakas) unleash a flurry of furious triplets underneath Bowie’s groovy “Fame,” and an extra layer of percussion bolsters the infectious rhythm of “Let’s Dance.” Dancers stand in the aisles during “It Ain’t Easy,” shaking the ground with their furious accents and crescendos.
All of the production’s strengths come together during a solo routine from Uttich set to “Space Oddity.” Bathed in purple light, Uttich – donning the same lightning bolt makeup as Bowie on the cover of Aladdin Sane – explores the alien terrain with a series of stunning dance moves. The song, layered with live strings and the rhythm of tap shoes, perfectly captures the wonder and intrigue of outer space. Captivated by song and dance, the audience, like Major Tom, is transported “far above the moon.”
1225 W. Belmont
June 30 – July 16, 2017
Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.
Sundays at 3:00 p.m.