Filmmaker George Miller admits that cannot sing and he cannot dance. To help him with the latter, he called in tap virtuoso Savion Glover and gave him his pitch.
He had co-written an adventure-filled love story about finding oneself through song and dance, despite opposition and closed-mindedness, and amid themes of unity and environmental conservation. The director wanted Mr. Glover to tap as the lead character, Mumble.
But there was a catch: Mumble was an energetic, animated, dancing emperor penguin—the star of “Happy Feet.”
“Once he said he wanted to do a movie about tap dancing, let alone a penguin tap dancing, I was in,” Mr. Glover recalled last week during a telephone interview. “I didn’t know it was going to be this blockbuster movie. Once it became the successful phenomena it has become, that was just a blessing.”
With motion capture, the filmmaker translated Mr. Glover’s style and steps into, first, a round, clumsy baby penguin and, eventually, into an adult Mumble, who leaves his home and travels his corner of the world, spreading his moves everywhere he goes.
Mumble is much like Mr. Glover himself, who tours internationally with his solo and group productions—he is making a stop at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Friday night—yet he always returns home to his roots in Newark, New Jersey, where he runs the HooFeRzCLuB School for Tap.
More than 30 years ago, Mr. Glover spent a lot of time in the building that is now his dance school, except then he was learning the drums with his band, Three Plus. One of their biggest performances was a benefit for paralyzed dancer Benny Clory at the Hines and Hatchet School of Dance, now known as the Broadway Dance Center, in Manhattan. There, the young Mr. Glover was first exposed to tap.
He was 7 years old.
“I followed Lon Chaney into his dressing room, and he talked to me about how I should think about translating what I was doing on my drums to my feet,” Mr. Glover said, referring to the tap legend and Broadway performer, who died in 1995 at age 68. “I had no idea of who he was, nor did I really know what he was saying. I was just fortunate that my mother was there. She was already signing me up for tap classes.”
It didn’t take long for him to find out. Mr. Chaney became one of the young boy’s teachers and mentors, alongside the likes of Gregory Hines, Jimmy Slyde, Chuck Green and Sammy Davis Jr. They guided him toward the bright lights and big stages. Mr. Glover was 12 when he made his Broadway debut.
“I am what I am because of them,” said Mr. Glover, who won the Tony Award for Best Choreography for “Bring in ’Da Noise, Bring in ’Da Funk” in 1996. “My early days, tap dancing was just something to do. I wasn’t paying attention to any of these comments or people suggesting I was some kind of prodigy or genius or the torch bearer. I was just happy to be tap dancing, and still am. This is my life now—to carry their legacy.”
Tap dancer Savion Glover will stage “SoLo in TiME” on Friday, August 29, at 8 p.m. at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center. Tickets range from $65 to $95. For more information, call (631) 288-1500, or visit whbpac.org.