It was a nostaligic time at the Smithsonian's Spring Celebration this weekend, affording a welcome, if temporary, respite from daily frictions and woes. Who could pass up the free Ferris wheel ride or the clowns or the quick-footed shenanigans tapped out by an assembliage of spry hoofers?
For three consecutive afternoons, Carmichael Auditorium was transformed into the Palace Theatre, offering three live shows and two films daily to an audience of dancers, kids, over-60 reminiscers, even an usher from the Palace Theatre itself.And the headliners? Cook and Brown, that bumptious comedy jazz team, who started things off -- tall, goofy Cookie Cook playing straight man to the shimmying, insult-spewing Ernie Brown. When tiny, rotund Brown got especially feisty, Cooke pushed him to the floor setting off a hilarious bout of trick falls and and manic horseplay.
Georgie Tapps, a trim, Gene Kellyish hoofer with the bearing and style of a flamenco artist, paid tribute to his mentor, George M. Cohan, with touching renditions of "Give My Regards to Broadway" and "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy" that he had learned personally from the old song-and-dance man. Michael Flatley, a shy 22-year-old Irish hard-shoe champion, kicked and beat his feet together and apart like some well-oiled dancing machine. And the red-jacketed master of ceremonies, Hal Le Roy, trotted out his nimble, rubbery legs for a wild specialty tap routine, and imitated a crazed, gum-chewing zoot-suiter and a Charlestoning swell who threw his invisible partner so high into the air that she never did come down.
The live performances and the odd assemblage of vaudeville and other theatrical film clips screened between the live shows momentarily swept the dust off a dear, departed cache of memories. But "Tapdancin,'" Christian Blackwood's rousing and educational documentary about tappers past, present and future, offered up a forward-thinking view of this vital, American art form. Let's look back, sure, but let's keep the feet warm and moving on.