Tap dancing, David Bowie and Intergalactic travel, a polygamous union made in heaven or a topsy-turvy concept unable to find its groove? The ever-inventive Chicago Tap Theatre believes “Changes,” a science fiction tap dance opera, the former, and maybe they’re right. Set to the music of David Bowie, the show tells the story of Major Tom, who, having journeyed to a far away planet finds the fairy creatures (or Alliange) living there enslaved by a small, wicked ruling class. As such, “Changes” unfurls its plot entirely through dance.
While CTT is to be applauded for a pleasantly off-kilter conceit, the execution is patchy. Interestingly, lighting is the primary obstacle. Much of the bewildering first act finds tap performed in near darkness, prompting the woman sitting next to me to whisper, “Are the lights broken?” As a whole, the show, currently presented with intermission, might benefit from judicious editing. Pacing would improve if most first act episodes were abridged, the entire performance condensed to one act.
However, after a hazy beginning, “Changes” finds purchase as it heads into the second act. Whereas the first section contains lengthy full company numbers, the second offers small group and solo performances, all strong. Here we see tightly choreographed vignettes delivering clear meaning. For example, the music-less number during which Major Tom and the gorgeously costumed aliens learn to communicate through dance is both lucid and entertaining. Another taut, creative section, the dance in which Major Tom teaches the aliens to fight which leads directly into a dynamic tap battle. While many strong dancers populate “Changes,” Mark Yonally as the malevolent Altego distinguishes himself through fantastic footwork and a droll, engaging stage presence.
Overall, the show is both dynamic and uneven: sometimes challenging to follow, but pleasurable to witness.