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Improvography

"Improvography," Savion Glover's series of improvised dance numbers, starts softly with captivating double bass musings but doesn't stay quiet for long as Glover streaks across the stage, unleashes his dancing feet and works up a drenching sweat during his 45-minute solo. Glover, who made his terpsichoric Broadway debut at 10 in "The Tap Dance Kid," struts his stuff to jazz, hip-hop, R&B, rock and funk, and his technical mastery inspires awe.

Cast:
With: Savion Glover, Maurice Chestnut, Ashley DeForest, Cartier A. Williams.

Improvography,” Savion Glover’s series of improvised dance numbers, starts softly with captivating double bass musings but doesn’t stay quiet for long as Glover streaks across the stage, unleashes his dancing feet and works up a drenching sweat during his 45-minute solo. Glover, who made his terpsichoric Broadway debut at 10 in “The Tap Dance Kid,” struts his stuff to jazz, hip-hop, R&B, rock and funk, and his technical mastery inspires awe. His joy in performing is obvious, but the show — especially the first half — could use more of the variety that distinguished his Tony-winning “Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk.” It clings so determinedly to its jazz elements that a sense of sameness and monotony creep in.

The program, as it stands here, is a feast for the converted rather than a production that beckons new fans.

The extent of Glover’s powerful bond between floor and feet was defined when a spectator commented, “That floor is getting more of a shellacking than Jude Law at the Oscars.” Glover does nothing halfheartedly, and he appears inextricably wed, emotionally and physically, to his spectacular onstage band. The four supermusicians — Brian Grice (percussion), Patience Higgins (sax/flute), Andy McCloud (bass) and Tommy James (piano) — stimulate and supplement his amazing moves with faultless synchronicity.

At first, the give and take between Glover and his group comes off like self-contained rapport and excludes the audience. He keeps his back to the crowd or does many of his amazing moves in profile. Only later does he confront the crowd and establish closer contact.

The show includes one classic Jerome Kern song, “The Way You Look Tonight” and could use more universally recognizable material. As far as can be heard, his vocal is fine, although the sound system amplifies the band and taps to a thunderous level so we only sense, rather than fully absorb, the overall impact of his singing. Other selections — “Stories of the Bible,” “D-Tunes” and “Glow Worm” — are similarly overshadowed, serving simply as adjuncts to the dancing.

Act two ushers in Glover’s dazzling dance troupe, its members adding modulation and balance. Maurice Chestnut, who starred in Broadway’s “The Wiz” and “Bubbling Brown Sugar,” joins 15-year-old Cartier A. Williams (‘Da Kid in a tour of “Bring on ‘Da Funk”) and Ashley DeForest. The trio break into a number without instrumental accompaniment. Their alternately loud and quiet taps add shading, and their a cappella steps are the equivalent of a hammering whisper.

Williams combines the freshness of youthful discovery with the polish of a veteran who has shared the stage at different times with such legends as Buster Brown, Jimmy Slyde, Gregory Hines (who devised the “Improvography” expression) and Peg Leg Bates, and he projects a sense of fun in everything he does.

Glover & Company follow with “Remember the Time,” a rocking tribute to Michael Jackson that was conceived to reinvigorate awareness of Jackson’s innovative footwork.

Impressionistic backdrops, notably a picture with seemingly hundreds of overlapping notes, suggest the intricacy of the show’s dancing and musicianship, and Brenda Gray’s lighting is an imaginative shifting of light and darkness.

These framing factors set the mood for Glover’s climax, “Stars and Stripes Forever for Now,” which confirms the remarkable range of his technique. Like the other rhythmic and musical stretches in the show, it elicits admiration, and Glover succeeds in making the evening feel like a flowing, off-the-cuff improvisational journey.

Improvography

Kodak Theater, Los Angeles; 3,400 seats; $53.50 top

Production: A Savion Worldwide and Nederlander presentation of a musical in two acts, directed and choreographed by Savion Glover.

Crew: Lighting, Brenda Gray; production stage manager, Thom Schilling; Musical director, Tommy James. Opened, reviewed March 22, 2005. Runs through March 26. Running time: 1 HOUR, 50 MIN.

Cast: With: Savion Glover, Maurice Chestnut, Ashley DeForest, Cartier A. Williams.

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