Tapped Tap Dances a Satire on Surveillance Society, Sluggishly

Siciliano and Hinders. Photo by Evan Hanover.
Siciliano and Hinders. Photo by Evan Hanover.

Tapped, a Treasonous Musical Comedy, is a frothy approach to political satire, featuring tap dancing spies and snitches, a six-piece live band, and songs with refrains like “Everybody loves a whistleblower,” “Your secrets are safe with us” and “The best place to be in Russia is the airport.” Tapped is the brainchild of Jed Levine (book and lyrics) and Brad Kemp (music). Director Molly Todd Madison keeps the action going, but it varies from lively to sluggish. The three need to work together to cut the 180-minute production in half. An editor’s pen would be their best prop.

Forth Story Productions, which staged a similar version of Tapped last fall, fills the stage with an ensemble of 16 performers, including six actors who play the key characters. Tapped tells the story of Mary Peters, an NSA analyst (Laureen Siciliano), who idolizes Sandra Bullock and falls in love with a whistleblower, Steve Palardi (Max Hinders). Frustrated by her NSA job and boss, Mary decides to throw in her lot with the whistleblower. The pair takes a flash drive full of documents to meet Wikileaks boss, Juliana (Jenna Steege, playing Julian Assange as a Swiss female sexpot). The lovers’ plan is to go to Lithuania after their meeting in Moscow with Juliana, but instead they are detained and spend two months in the Moscow airport with its minimal amenities (leading to excessive jokes about people smelling bad and needing a shower).

Among the dance silliness is Juliana’s “Swiss Bitch,” in black leather with three male dancers, leather-clad and should-be-more-clad. Juliana doesn’t hesitate to describe her country. “I’m Swiss and we have no sense of humor” and “Apologizing is difficult for a Swiss, because we are so rarely wrong.” (This reviewer is half Swiss and we Swiss rarely get any attention, so at least we’re noticed here, even if clumsily.)

Siciliano does a believable job as Mary and Steege is just enough over-the-top to still be funny as Juliana. Hinders is naive and earnest as Steve. Among the ensemble, Mikey Mulhearn stands out as a terrific dancer, rifle and flag spinner. Most of the performers and the performance are lackluster, however.

Tapped disappoints in its lame satire of our NSA/FBI/CIA obsession with surveillance. The problem is real and deserves a better presentation: Biting and sarcastic rather than clichéd and stereotyped. The funny pop culture references don’t save it. There’s not enough political substance to justify the length.

Technically, Tapped has rough edges too. The sound engineer needs to do a thorough sound check to balance out performers’ voices; some are far too loud and some too soft. The very wide stage in this small venue spreads out the action too much, and Annamarie Giordano’s simple scene design isn’t simple enough; it still requires too much furniture moving.

Tapped: A Treasonous Musical Comedy runs through July 3 at Theater Wit with performances Thursday-Sunday. Tickets for $35 can be bought online or by calling 773-975-8150.

Nancy S Bishop
Nancy S Bishop

Nancy S. Bishop is publisher and Stages editor of Third Coast Review. She’s a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a 2014 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. You can read her personal writing on pop culture at nancybishopsjournal.com, and follow her on Twitter @nsbishop. She also writes about film, books, art, architecture and design.

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