Gulf Coast Theatre on Tap presented the “Rhythm Tap-Live Jazz” performance Neutral Ground; their second full concert presented by the company in 15 months in New Orleans. The concert included 32 tap dancers, forming three companies within itself-a professional company that includes dancers who are renowned in both the USA and Europe, a pre-professional company of dancers between the ages of 14-17 and a junior company of dancers between the ages of 10-13. All the dancers were under the direction of the fantastic Heidi Malnar.
The music was played by a seven piece band that included Tammay Strahan Mansfield on Piano/Flute and Ainsley Matich on Bass/Tuba/Piano. The vocalists were led by the amazing Arséne DeLay. A trio of harmonizers were by her side in Elizabeth Daniels, Kayla Herrington, and Ashely Rose Butler.
Malnar was the artistic director on the performance, and one of its main stars. She thought that the music and culture of New Orleans made for a great rhythm to base a tap performance off of. The performance was split into two acts, with 17 pieces in total. The pieces included anywhere between one and three songs, and carried themes and settings such as “One Night in City Park,” and “Finding Home.”
The second act of the performance was led by a piece choreographed and performed by Danielle Harrell Scheib, the granddaughter of Pete Fountain. The piece was honoring the great musician, as she tapped to Fountain’s rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” with photos of Fountain displayed behind her. It was a great piece, and Fountain, who was in attendance, must have been proud.
The music was spearheaded by lead vocalist DeLay. The vocals and band fitted in perfectly with the tap dancers, never superseding but never taking a backseat. The eclectic mix of music, spanning genres and eras, flowed perfectly. From Professor Longhair’s “Go to Mardi Gras,” to the classic “Tonight You Belong To Me,” to Allen Toussaint’s “Here Come the Girls,” and Rebirth’s “I Feel Like Funkin’ It Up.”
I attended the show with a vocalist friend of mine who performs around the city, as well as a couple of visitors, one of which was my sister, one of which had never been here before. We all enjoyed the show, were captivated by the performances. From the dancing to the singing, to the lighting, we all caught ourselves bobbing our heads or singing and humming along at different points.
In a show full of memorable moments, one sticks out for me personally. Right before the intermission, in the middle of the second section titled “Finding Home,” the lights turned low as the band started playing “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To,” by Cole Porter. You could only see the silhouettes of the dancers, and the tapping fell into synch with the rhythm. DeLay’s voice pierced through it all, singing such an emotional song that I love so much. My vocalist friend stood up right as the piece ended, and applauded. I caught myself doing the same. Touched in a moment, that by itself, was worth the price of admission.