BOB FOSSE’S DANCIN’
This review was written for BLICKPUNKT MUSICALE, the German magazine on international musical theatre for which Mr. Dwyer is US reviewer.
Even though it’s not a musical per se “Bob Fosse’s Dancin’” is a theatrical extravaganza of dance that not only celebrates the work of the legendary American choreographer (and stage and film director) but also gloriously illuminates how vital dance is to musical theater. Fosse (1927 - 1987) started out as a hoofer in vaudeville and Broadway chorus lines and then in Hollywood musicals. He aspired, in reverse, to what other great choreographers like Agnes de Mille and Jerome Lawrence, for example, experienced going from ballet to Broadway. Fosse’s unrealized dream was ballet composition. Segments of “Dancin’” come damn close. Whatever the dance genre, it’s entertaining as hell from beginning to end.
This revival, which first premiered at San Diego’s Globe Theatre (one of America’s premiere regional theaters) in 2022, is directed and staged by Wayne Cilento, a Fosse disciple and member of the original original 1978 “Dancin’” cast. (He was nominated for a Tony for Featured Actor in a Musical; Fosse won for Best Choreography.) Now, 45 years since the original, Cilento has not so much “re-imagined” Fosse’s work ( as the show is being promoted), as he has acknowledged with new energy how Fosse’s routines have become integrated into contemporary musical theater dance.
With neither full plot nor original score, “Dancin” is a series of choreographed scenes, vignettes and extended sequences, performed to a versatile collection of classical music and tunes from the American songbook - jazz, big-band, pop, even patriotic anthems. The two-and half hour show opens with “Crunchy Granola Sweet”, a pop song by Neil Diamond, followed by a sequence called “Recollections of an Old Dancer”, the central portion of which is the famous “Mr. Bojangles”, which recalls Fosse’s youthful vaudeville roots.
The cast of 22, with deep Broadway dance portfolios, is uniformly staggeringly athletic, but among the standouts is Peter John Chursin, whose plays a central part in “Big City Mime”, about a visitor’s experience in Times Square in the 1940s. The sequence is restored in this revival, having been cut from the 1978 original after its Boston tryout pre-Broadway. Kolton Krouse, leggier than Ann Reinking, Fosse’s muse, almost steals the show with the solo “Spring Chicken” later in the same sequence.
The vivid musical orchestrations by Jim Abbot, incorporate elements of the scores from Fosse’s biggest Broadway successes like “Pippin” and “Sweet Charity”. Musical execution of twelve musicians is superb, especially the brass. Cilento spikes his choreography with Fosse’s signature movements: the silhouetted soloist, the tipped bowed hat, the lip-dangling cigarette, the shrugging shoulders, but it’s never cliched. It’s joyous, vibrant, and sexy. The dance gets contemplative, too, with a sequence called “America” which morphs from a jaunty “Yankee Doodle Dandy” to a surreal Jimi Hendrix rendition of the national anthem; the Fosse marching parade step drives home the point.
Amazingly the dozens of vignettes that populate 14 sequences meld one to another; the effect is something like watching a never-ending version of Gene Kelly’s dance sequence for the 1951 “American in Paris” modernized for a 21st century audience.
Costumes by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung, who designs mostly for ballet companies, razzle dazzle in the best Broadway tradition. David Grill’s lighting design and Robert Brill’s scenic design - a 30’ backdrop that accommodates a variety of digital and photographic projections - further electrify the athleticism of the dance. Dancin’ is exhilarating from beginning to end, but the indisputable show stopper is “Benny’s Number”, an almost 17-minute sequence choreographed to Louis Prima’s “Sing, Sing, Sing”. It alone is worth the price of admission.