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Tapping through the 20th century

Oregon Cabaret Theatre presents a medley of jazz and tap numbers in its original production, "Riffin' & Tappin'." The show features the rhythm and taps of Southern Oregon dancers Suzanne Seiber and Jim Giancarlo and New York-based dancer Christopher George Patterson. Accompanying the feet beat are local musicians Tom Freeman on percussion, Paul Jenny on trumpet and guitar and Thomas MacKay on keyboards.

"Riffin' & Tappin' " was motivated by the dancers' long-standing desire to perform together and explore the progression of jazz and tap in a show, says Giancarlo, the Cabaret's artistic director.

"('Riffin' & Tappin') isn't a story per se, but it is all about rhythm and jazz," he says.

Without a score or script to follow, the dancers and musicians collaborated on the material and arrangements.

"We each have a different approach to tap ... and I think that's what's exciting about the program," he says. "It's a collaboration, so you're going to get more variety."

The program opens with the piece "The Language of Tap," written by Giancarlo to introduce the history of tap and its vocabulary and steps, including the shuffle off to Buffalo, the Cincinnati, the Shorty George and the Maxie Ford.

The program reflects the evolution of jazz and tap through the 20th century.

"We start out with the older-style — early 20th-century— jazz, then we move into more '40s swing and then eventually into cool '50s jazz and be-bop," says Giancarlo.

By the end, dancers are tapping to '70s fusion-rock jazz and more contemporary pop scores.

Numbers are performed as solos, duets and trios, and the majority are accompanied by the dancers' vocal stylings, along with Paul Jenny.

Patterson pays tribute to American actor and dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson in the number "Doin' the New Low Down," performed with Seiber as Shirley Temple.

Later, Seiber and Giancarlo perform a duet to "The Shorty George," featured on the 1940s film "You Were Never Lovelier," starring Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth.

Other numbers are '40s swing tune "Rhythm in a Riff," George Gershwin's "Fascinating Rhythm," Paul Jenny's original piece "Blue Shoes" and a couple Latin numbers.

Set and lighting design are by Craig Hudson, and costume design is by Kerri Lea Robbins. Michael Halderman is the technical director, and Kathleen Mahoney is the stage manager.

"Riffin' & Tappin' " will open Friday, Sept. 10, with previews on Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 8 and 9, and will run through Oct. 31. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays. Sunday brunch matinees are at 1 p.m.

Tickets are $19 for previews, $21 for Sunday evening, $27 for Sunday brunch matinees, $27 and $29 for Thursday and Monday shows and $31 and $33 for Friday and Saturday shows.

Gourmet dining and brunch are available with advance reservations. Appetizers, desserts and beverages also are available without reservations. Ticket prices do not include food or beverages.

For tickets, see www.oregoncabaret.com, call 541-488-2902, or stop by the box office.

Christopher George Patterson and Suzanne Seiber dance as Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and Shirley Temple in the number “Doin' the New Low Down.' - Photo by Christopher Briscoe