I attended a recent production of Bring In'Da Noise,
Bring In'Da Funk. This production was comprised of the 1996
Tony Award winning all African-American cast and was
performed at the Ambassador Theater. Due to the ticket cost,
most of the audience was middle aged, although approximately
fourty percent of the audience was African American and
thirty percent appeared to be under age 30.
The Ambassador Theater itself seemed pretty small. There
was the lower "orchestra" level (which was slightly below the
stage) and a higher balcony level. For this particular
production, a highly visible sound board that one would
normally see in a studio or a radio station took up the back
eighth of the "orchestra" section. Because of its multilevel
design, the theater seemed to hold 200 reasonably well in a
building that should seat half that amount.
Bring In'Da Noise, Bring In'Da Funk didn't have a
traditional orchestra. The playbill credited six musicians,
and two of them were on the sound board. The only live
instruments were reeds, a trumpet, a harmonica, a guitar, a
bass, and "drums." The drumming was done onstage by
performers Jared Crawford and Raymond King. Crawford and King
used such nontraditional items as pans, chains, and plastic
industrial buckets for drumming.
Perhaps the most prominent instrumentation was tap
dancing. Bring In'Da Noise is a musical about tap dancing,
and under the choreography of lead dancer (and co-creator)
Savion Glover, the tapping sounds just as musical as Ann
Duquesnay's singing, the improvised drumming, or the piped-in
The music in Bring In'Da Noise is heavily improvised and
jazz influenced. There are also numbers based on spirituals,
black-imitating-white-imitating-black minstrelsy, and even
rap. There is a percussive current throughout the musical.
The drumming complements the tapping, and both drumming and
tapping are used to pound home the themes of slavery,
lynchings, the deception of a better life up North, and how
rioting and violence hurts everyone involved.
Bring In'Da Noise contains approximately 27 scenes. The
dancers and singers are anonymous except in one act. The
action shifts thoughout African-American History. It starts
with the horrors of the slave ships. Then there is the "Pan
Handlers" scene, which is the improvisation that results
after a screen on top of the stage announces that South
Carolina has outlawed drumming.
Ann Duquesnay's jazz singing highlights "The Lynching
Blues," in which the dancer tap to a narration of worthless
charges used to dignify lynching. "Chicago Bound" highlights
in narration and silent action the story of an African
American man lured to Chicago by the Chicago Defender's,
promise of a well paying, "cracker free" environment. The
anonymous man finds an industrial job in Chicago. When he
departs work, he looks for the nightlife but finds riots,
police brutality, and death. The scene ends with Ann
narrating the Defender's claims of a better life for African
Americans in Chicago while a screen above the stage details
the deaths caused by rioting and a much harsher reality.
The location shifts to Harlem for the "Dark Tower-
Whirligig Stomp" scene. A man (Jeffrey Wright) plays the part
of an affluent African American who listens to a cultured
singer (Ann Duquesnay) and speaks of Harlem as an affluent
The next section (the only one with conventional
characters), called "Where's The Beat?", tells the brief
story of a kid (Dule Hill) who comes to Los Angeles to
conquer the tap world. He is thrown out of one studio. In
another studio, he meets Uncle Huck-A-Buck (Baakari Wilder),
an African-American "sellout." Uncle Huck-A-Buck taps better
than his young white female co-star (a large doll attached to
Savion Glover), but she keeps asking "why do I make more than
you?" The kid then flees to a bar full of the "hopeless," and
in deparation taps to anyone who will witness him.
"Green, Chaney, Buster, Slyde" is a one-man scene with
Savion Glover narrating the influences in his dance career
while tapping in their styles. The next act, "Street Corner
Symphony" details more in soul singing (and a staged phone
conversation) than in dance the decline of Harlem. The act
concludes with Ann singing in a gospel style the decline of
her neighborhood while Jeffery Wright does a solo rap with
the same themes.
The last scene before the finale (a reprise of the title
and opening song) is "Taxi," which depicts the futile
struggle to get a cab for four African Americans. One flashes
a gold credit card, another an autographed copy of Colin
Powell's book, but neither gets the cab. At the end of the
scene, the four tappers do a finger gesture any normal New
Yorker would have done immediately after being refused a cab
I was impressed by Bring In'Da Noise, Bring In 'Da Funk.
The tap dancing was as aurally expressive as it was visually
expressive. The "Taxi" and "Street Corner Symphony" sections
evoke both humor and sorrow- something that is very difficult
to pull off. The "Pan Handlers" and "Industrialization"
pieces are amazing in their execution. They are reminiscient
of the British performance troupe Stomp. Overall, Bring In'Da
Noise, Bring In'Da Funk is a great way to relive the history
of tap and African-American music.