The little pieces of American art and folk history that the Smithsonian Institution puts on as entertainment nearly always prove that it's possible to present, or preserve, something worthwhile in an appealing way. "Fancy Feet: An Evening with Charles Cook and Friends" brought some old-time tapping and vaudeville to Baird Auditorium Sunday night.
Charles (Cookie) Cook began his career in vaudeville long ago. He danced at the Cotton Club, and more recently as a member of the Copasetics. His dancing friends, including James (Buster) Brown, Susan Goldbetter and Lynn Cataldo, Micki Davis and Kevin Ramsey, demonstrated the range of styles embraced by the term "tap dancing."
Cook took it kind of slow Sunday night, but Brown, compact and energetic, bustled through about a dozen comedy and dance routines with a style that was both neat and spirited. He demonstrated tap walking -- it looked like he was mimicking different kinds of walks, but it sounded like he was tapping -- as well as how different moods sound when the feet got into the act. This was a very informal show, and the casual patter between Cook and Brown was delightful.
This was billed as a "real hot vaudeville revue," and some of Cook's friends were musicians. Bross Townsend was the fine piano accompanist for most of the shenanigans, but Rose Murphy -- "the Chichi Girl" -- played and sang a few songs, and Chuck Payne crooned a couple of ballads.
Davis, like Goldbetter and Cataldo, represents a much younger generation than Cook and Brown, and shows that tap is not just a nostalgic form. But the real hot item in this revue was the young Kevin Ramsey, whose racing-car-red shoes tapped out very contemporary rhythms, but whose loose, engaging performing style would have been right at home on the bill when Cook made his debut at the other end of this century. Ramsey tapped on his heels, tapped on his toes, threw in some splits and spins and grins and watched everything the older guys were doing when he wasn't dancing himself.
Washington's own "Mr. Rhythm," Carl Jackson, was in the audience, and joined his buddies for some soft-shoe routines.