Moxie Fords bring tap-happy Peter Pan to Yellow Sign Theatre

The late Robin Williams as Peter Pan in a screenshot from the movie Hook. (TriStar Pictures)

Mention the name Mary Martin to a greying generation of Broadway fans and most will immediately think of her signature role as Peter Pan. Then talk about Peter Pan to a younger crowd and their thoughts turn to Dustin Hoffman and the late Robin Williams. But how different a take would people have of J.M. Barrie’s whimsical imp if instead of Mary Martin’s high-flying antics or Robin Williams’ improvisations they recalled Gene Kelly’s lush leaps or Ann Miller’s machine-gun tapping?

Broadway star Mary Martin is best remembered for her role as Peter Pan.
Broadway star Mary Martin is best remembered for her role as Peter Pan.

This Saturday night at The Yellow Sign Theatre, a high-stepping troupe called The Moxie Fords will dispense with the flying wires and take their audience on a toe-tapping trip to Neverland with Peter Pan – A Tap Dance Spectacular. This lovingly altered production of Barrie’s classic tale will feature irreverent song and dance performances by the exuberant company along with appearances by several very special guests.

The Moxie Fords are a Baltimore-based performance group dedicated to sharing tap and other percussive dance forms with a comedic twist. Their growing membership includes people who have never tapped before, dance teachers, and self-confessed dance school drop-outs. The troupe is open to anyone who wants to learn how to tap.

Admittedly, a tap-dancing production of Peter Pan sounds like a bit of a stretch, but the Baltimore Post-Examiner was invited to attend a rehearsal this past Sunday and from what we saw of the show it appears to be a spirited, delightful hoot. Craig Coletta, the managing director of the Yellow Sign Theatre, said that both the concept and the company fit perfectly with the free-wheeling venue.

“The Yellow Sign exists so that people with talent, humor, and creativity and who are utterly lacking in pretense can say ‘Let’s try this!’”.

“When the Moxie Fords performed at Yellow Sign last year,” Coletta continued, “I was beyond thrilled. Think The Devil’s Bargin. With tap. And Ukeleke. They tried it. It KILLED. Hilarious and charming. Hey, it’s your fault you missed it!”

“So now they’re taking on a story we all know from childhood, from film, from Broadway. You’ll leave wishing you didn’t grow up; just like the Moxies.”

(Anthony C. Hayes)
Practice makes perfect as the Moxie Fords rehearse for their upcoming Peter Pan Tap Spectacular show. (Anthony C. Hayes)

Bringing the buoyant bounce of more than a dozen dancers to the Yellow Sign stage is director Ann Tabor. The agile artist also appears in the production as Tink.

“I started dancing when I was nine but quit going to classes right before high school. I never actually really stopped and kept dancing in my room and under my desk. In fact, when I was 12 or 13, I choreographed some tap dances to some of the same Adam Ant songs we’re using in this production!”

“I started taking classes again a few years ago when I moved to Hampden and found a dance studio within walking distance that actually takes adult students seriously, which is really hard to find.”

Tabor said that The Moxie Fords sprang from a tribute act for a local variety show.

“Fluid Movement, a water ballet performance group many of our members are also in, was having a literary-themed variety show in 2013 and put out a call for acts. I thought it would be funny to recreate the Puttin on the Ritz tap dance from Young Frankenstein so I asked for volunteers. Most of the people who signed up had never tapped before; a few had taken tap as children but hadn’t tapped since. We ended up having so much fun with the dance that we decided to form a troupe. Since then, lots of people have found out about the group and signed up. We have a good mix of total beginners, people who took tap for a bit as kids, and people who still attend and/or teach classes.”

Recreating the famous tap scene from Young Frankenstein seems like a natural. But we wondered how this production of Peter Pan came to be?

Director Ann Tabor demonstrates a routine (Anthony C. Hayes)
Director Ann Tabor demonstrates a dance routine. (Anthony C. Hayes)

“I’ve wanted to do something with Peter Pan ever since I first read the play because it seemed like it would be so much fun to perform, but it never occurred to me that I would be tapping in it! The original Barrie script is so hilarious that we really didn’t have to alter it very much at all.”

“Last year’s show, The Moxie Ford Massacre, was horror-themed with dancing skeletons, devils, zombies, and a tap dance exorcism! It might be the first time anyone has ever tried to tap dance to Electric Hellfire Club, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Alien Sex Fiend, but it worked and we had a sold-out show.”

Pulling together such ambitious shows takes time, vision and talent. Tabor said the talent is there and the performers are certainly willing to put in the hours. So what’s next?

“We do a lot of smaller performances at events throughout the year, but for our next big annual show, we are hoping to do a tribute to TV shows of the 80s and 90s. One of our dancers was watching an episode of the Golden Girls with a tap routine in it and that set the plan in motion.”

A tap-dancing production of the Golden Girls?

Now that takes moxie.

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The Moxie Fords Present Peter Pan: A Tap Dance Spectacular at the Yellow Sign Theatre (1726 North Charles Street) on Saturday, August 23, 2014. There will be two performances of the play, one at 7:00 pm and another at 9:00 pm. Tickets for both performances are available on Brown Paper Tickets for $8, and include a free raffle ticket for a Peter Pan-themed gift basket. Tickets will be $10 at the door. For more information about the troupe, contact Ann Tabor at