Review: "The Tap Pack" at The Peacock Theatre

Justin Timberlake may have been determined to bring sexy back – but for a group of Australia’s finest dancers, it's all about bringing tap dancing back. “Back in the days of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, tap was the thing to do – everybody went to tap classes. But, somewhere along the way it’s fizzled out, so we’re trying to keep it cool, and keep it around.”

So says Jesse Rasmussen, leader of the Tap Pack and – having spent an evening watching these Aussie heartthrobs conquer the stage, we can say with some certainty: Tap is still cool.

Inspired by the Kings of Swing, the original Rat Pack themselves (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr.), the Tap Pack formed in 2012. Composed of Jesse Rasmussen, Thomas J. Egan, Sean Mulligan, Max Patterson and Ben Brown, the group has more musical theatre credits than you could shake a stick at – with a couple of them starting their dance careers as young as 3 or 4.

Friends to begin with, the minds behind the group came up with the idea in (where else) a bar, while discussing their shared love of - what they term - that show-business, song-and-dance man kind of theatre”. Seeing a distinct lack of these kinds of shows, they made their own, tipping their collective hats to the greats that came before them, and creating a platform for them to have a REALLY GREAT TIME on stage.

And a really great time they have indeed, the show is slick, silly, and playful – fuelled by the performers’ seemingly limitless energy. They take the Rat Pack’s flair and pair it with their own slapstick humour and witty banter. That they are friends in real life is obvious. Clearly influenced by Frank, Dean and Sammy’s tendency to tease each other on stage, the show features such hi-jinks as a sing-off between Ben and Sean and the impressive moment when Thomas plays the Ginger Rogers to Jesse’s Fred Astaire, meaning that a full-grown man has to realise the difficulty of dancing backwards - in heels.

They have, they say, been instructed by their Director to treat every show like it is a “Muck-up Matinee” (which I presume is Australian for “Dress Rehearsal”) – to keep that sense of playfulness and fun – and by golly it works. The slickness of the costume and the set allows the audience to relax, the live four-piece band pairs well with the dynamism of the five performers, and each one of them wows with their solo pieces.

If we had one small piece of criticism, it is this: size matters, especially when it comes to venues. Now we understand, we really do, that if you have had a certain number of sold-out shows, it seems natural to up-size to a bigger venue. We also understand that performing is really hard work and doing more shows at smaller venues is tiring. However… we were lucky enough to see the Tap Pack in Edinburgh two years ago at a 500-seat venue. Every show was sold out, and the atmosphere was electric. While we don’t remotely doubt the Tap Pack’s ability to fill 1000+ seats, it does have an impact on audience interaction, which we think is the magic ingredient for any successful show of this nature.

That said, we still had a bloody good time – as did (we could tell) pretty much all of the ladies in the audience. To give you a taste of the sort of reaction the five guys got, I will leave you with this insightful comment from my charming plus-one, which I was instructed to work into the piece: “sexy, sassy and uplifting. If only they could do it with less clothing on…”

Don’t think I’ll be handing the writing reins over to her just yet… but that doesn’t mean I don’t agree with the sentiment…

These fabulous fellas are on at The Peacock Theatre until May 19th, and you can get your tickets here.


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