"These are regular guys who can tap dance, not chorus boys dressed up to look like workmen," says Dein Perry, the real-life Australian Billy Elliot who created Tap Dogs, an instant hit in Sydney in 1995 and now a worldwide tap sensation.
Perry's brother Sheldon plays the part of the foreman in this new production and the first-ever British Tap Dog, Douglas Mills, plays 2ic (second in command). James Doubtfire, also resident director/choreographer on the road, plays Rat, and Lee McDonald plays Funky, but it is enforcer, Drew Kaluski, who catches the eye; stocky, with large feet, he none the less taps with the grace of a genius. "He is fast," says Perry of the big boy. "And when he's not tap dancing, he's out painting and decorating." Perry is still auditioning for Kid, the youngster based on his own character.
Tap Dogs is based on Perry's experience of growing up in Newcastle, a steel town in New South Wales, where he and a few friends learnt how to tap. He worked there as a machinist until he escaped to Sydney, landed the principal role in 42nd Street and created the tap routines that became Tap Dogs, a dance show with an industrial slant.
These days, Perry leaves the tapping to others, choosing to stay at home with his family rather than spend his life touring. But he is bringing the dance troupe back to Sadler's Wells (Tap Dogs last visited the theatre in 2001) to direct and re-choreograph the six men stripped to the waist, in jeans and Blundstone boots for Tap Dogs Rebooted. And, for the first time, three girls will be joining the formerly all-male line-up.
The show is traditionally very hands on. As the guys energetically wield heavy-duty tools - like metal cutters, which shoot sparks everywhere - they build the industrial set in front of your eyes. Water showers the stage. "We like to use as many elements as possible to create sounds and textures to tap dance on." There are also lots of ropes and ladders for the dancers to grapple with.
"The cast get incredibly tired," says Perry. "Eight or nine shows a week, just tapping away non-stop each show. They get quite a sweat-up, but that's the name of the game."
"With the extra girls there is a bigger feel when they hit the deck," adds Perry. "We are trying new things - but sooner or later you go full circle. We have to let it have its own life." It's done all right so far: the show has become an Australian mascot up there with Kylie Minogue, with whom they opened the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
Perry misses tap dancing, but he has a floor at his house. "I'm teaching my five-year-old son to tap dance. I hope he'll be a real Tap Dog one day."
'Hello Boys! Tap Dogs: Rebooted', Sadler's Wells, London EC1 (020-7863 8000) 5-23 August, Tuesday - Friday at 8pm, Saturday 5pm and 8pm, Sunday at 5pm. Matinee performance, Wed 20 August at 2.30pm