Adam Garcia in Bootmen(Photo: Philip Le Masuvier)
Adam Garcia in Bootmen
(Photo: Philip Le Masuvier)
If this were the 1940s, Adam Garcia would be making movies at M-G-M right alongside Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. Here is a musical theater star cut from the same cloth as those legends; he has the looks, the charm, and the talent. In short, he's just the right package, but at the wrong time.

Or maybe he's the right package for our time. Garcia is an Australian who has made a theatrical home for himself in London: He won raves and created a sensation when he starred in the original West End production of Saturday Night Fever. How good is he? Don't take our word for it. Dance on over to a movie theater showing Bootmen and you'll tap Adam Garcia as this generation's great hope for musical theater.

Bootmen, the new tap dancing flick from Australia directed by Dein Perry of Tap Dogs fame, isn't Singin' in the Rain; but it's an industrial strength vehicle for Garcia, who gets to act a little and dance a lot. Loosely based on the early life of Dein Perry, the film concerns a young, rebellious man who has a talent for tap and a great desire to escape a life of working in a steel mill in Newcastle. Like Perry, Garcia's character eventually gets his dancing buddies to try a new kind of blue-collar tap style that reflects their work in the mills. In real life, that effort resulted in Tap Dogs. In Bootmen, it will introduce Adam Garcia's dancing charisma to the world.

Garcia is more engaging and playful in person than the serious, driven character he plays in the movie. He walks into the Essex House Hotel room for our chat with tousled hair and a devil-may-care attitude. He doesn't cloak himself in self-importance and, unlike most up-and-coming stars, he isn't the slightest bit protective of his image. He gets the jokes, kids back, and answers every question he's asked.

We start with some questions about his supporting role in the recently released Hollywood movie, Coyote Ugly; he was the good-looking guy who danced a wee bit in that film. Garcia tells us that the inclusion of his little terpsichorean moment was "a tongue-in cheek joke. They threw that in at the last minute because they understood I was a dancer, and they felt they might exploit that.

"I've danced since I was seven, doing ballet," Garcia relates. "I followed my cousin to a dance school in Sydney." Though he loved the look of tap, the style eluded him. "I was terrible," he confides. "Abysmal. I couldn't get it at all. About a year later, though, my feet were suddenly doing the right moves. I liked this thing, this tap dancing. It's so much like jazz, and I'm a big music fan--jazz in particular. I can't play an instrument because--well, I can't. But I can play my feet!"

Dein Perry and Adam Garciaduring the filming of Bootmen(Photo: Philip Le Masuvier)
Dein Perry and Adam Garcia
during the filming of Bootmen
(Photo: Philip Le Masuvier)
Fast forward to Dein Perry's visit to Garcia's dancing school, when Garcia was 18. "He was broke at that time," Garcia says of his first encounter with his mentor. "He'd done 42nd Street [in Sydney], playing the lead role, but dancing doesn't really pay that much. So he was coming to teach at my school to earn some extra money. We formed a group called Tap Dogs; then we developed a show called Hot Shoe Shuffle that toured Australia and, eventually, went to England. We got invited to the West End and played a six month gig there." When the show finished its run, Garcia decided to stay in London, while Perry went back Down Under and worked up the show that became Tap Dogs.

Over the next few years, Garcia kept busy in West End theater--a supporting role in Grease led to an acting role in the play Birdy. But something was afoot (pun intended). While he was in Grease, which was produced in London by Robert Stigwood, Garcia was taken aside by the producer and asked if he wanted to be involved in a workshop of Saturday Night Fever. "This was months before it was cast," recalls Garcia. "It was just to get a rough idea of what would be happening [on stage] and what he'd need to look for. Stigwood liked what I did in the workshop, so he asked me to audition for Tony [Manero, the lead]. Numerous auditions later, they heaped the role on top of me."

One of the most memorable moments during his rise to fame on the London stage occurred five minutes before the curtain went up on opening night of Saturday Night Fever. "The Duchess of York came back stage and saw me in the royal G-string," Garcia says with a laugh. "It was awkward. You're not expecting people at the five-minute call! I started to get up, but you can't show your naked buttocks to a member of the royal family."

Well, Garcia got through that ordeal and the show itself, emerging as a star. He was such a natural in the role that there was much talk of bringing him to Broadway to play Tony Manero, but Garcia wasn't that anxious. "I had quite a few injuries during the London run," he says. "It's a bit of a brutal show. They really wanted me to do a year [in New York]. I jokingly said, 'How about two weeks?' They said, 'No.' I said, 'Three weeks?' They said, 'No.' " More seriously, he tells us, "I wanted to do six to nine months in the show here, but they weren't interested in that. So I declined."

Londoners have seen and heard him sing and dance in Grease and Saturday Night Fever. We see the dancing in Bootmen, but we don't get to hear the pipes. How does Garcia's voice compare to his feet? "I would say it's okay," he says. "I can hold a tune. I know there are a lot of people with better voices, but the good thing was that I had a character part [in Saturday Night Fever]. With pop tunes or rock tunes, there's leeway to get a bit more edgy. That was my excuse for it, anyway."

Around that time, Dein Perry re-entered Garcia's life. "He came to me and said, 'I've been working on this film, and I've got you in mind.' So we started to work together again on Bootmen." The only potential problem was that a lot of people involved in the project--including Perry--had absolutely no experience in making a movie.

Adam Garcia and cast in Bootmen(Photo: Philip Le Masuvier)
Adam Garcia and cast in Bootmen
(Photo: Philip Le Masuvier)
"Dein had cast me early on," Garcia said, "and I asked, 'Who have you got to direct this?' Dein answered, 'I reckon I'll do it.' I said, 'Dein, you've never been behind a camera. You've never even been in front of a camera!' " Undeterred Perry directed the movie, and rather smashingly. According to Garcia, "Dein's one of these people who says, 'Why can't I do this?' He just threw himself in it. Still, there were times when we were pretty worried. We had no idea what we were doing. Not a clue."

They barreled through; even the big dance number that serves as the film's finale only took four days to shoot. "That's the way Dein works," Garcia says admiringly. They were able to do it, he explains, "because we've worked together for so long--the tap boys--and we're expected, as professional dancers, to be able to pick up steps and get the routine right within a couple of minutes. Dein would literally choreograph things then and there, and then go, 'Okay, we're shooting.' You don't have time to go back and say you've made a mistake. You have to get it right. That's why it's exciting in the finale, because we shot it live. It's the same kind of nerves and adrenaline that you get on stage."

Making films like Coyote Ugly and Riding in Cars With Boys (now shooting, with Drew Barrymore) has recently kept Garcia from dancing. "I still teach," he says. "I actually went to the Broadway Dance Center last time I was here. The New York tappers," he says with a low whistle, "they're good! And it's just great to put your boots back on." Fearing that he might give up dancing, we ask how strongly he feels the pull of non-musical roles.

"I'd like to be greedy and do it all," Garcia says with a youthful innocence. "Dancing seems to have been revived after being left behind for a few years. With Saturday Night Fever [on stage] and now Bootmen, it's come again. I love to dance. I love it! But I certainly love acting as well, and I'm still learning a lot. So, I'd like--if this is okay--I'd like to be able to do theater and film. Australian, English, American films, independents; everything, really."

That's okay with us, just so long as he keeps on dancing.