'Bob Fosse's Dancin' review — a testament to the joy of theatrical dance
Read our four-star review of Bob Fosse's Dancin' on Broadway, a revival of the Tony Award-winning 1978 dance revue now playing at the Music Box Theatre.
With two Bob Fosse dance revues in existence — 1978's Dancin', now having its first revival at the Music Box Theatre, and 1999's Fosse — comparisons are inevitable, so let me make mine and get on with it. Fosse, a minimalist highlight reel of his best-known choreography, reflects what most people associate with him today: black hats, black leotards, precise yet slinky movements in which even the isolated wag of a finger drips with sex appeal.
That show, created by Fosse's collaborators after his death, is a loving tribute to his singular mark on dance history. Dancin' similarly is; besides being produced by Fosse's daughter Nicole, this revival is directed by Wayne Cilento, a Tony-nominated member of the 1978 cast.
He's added in some famous Fosse numbers from other shows, but Cilento otherwise preserves Fosse's original Dancin' choreography, much of which pushes the boundaries of, and departs from, his style as we think of it. And by doing so, Bob Fosse's Dancin' (as the revival's title has been stylized) reminds us of the breadth of Fosse's talent and resurfaces a facet of his legacy we often forget: joy. Dancin' brims with it — in Fosse's moves, the dancers' soaring energy, the lively orchestra, and, thanks to all that, in the audience.
Joy manifests in many different ways in the Dancin' choreography, which is partitioned into a series of standalone vignettes. (Fosse didn't want the show to have a plot. A performer cheekily warns us about this, though that doesn't cancel out the fact that Dancin' is, objectively, a bit disjointed.) A major one is eroticism — this is Fosse, after all. His signature sultriness is on ample display in numbers like the dreamy quartet "Massage Parlor" and an explosive, all-too-short snippet of Fosse's Sweet Charity highlight "Big Spender" that left me craving more.
Another is gleeful showmanship — razzle dazzle, if you will. Standout numbers like "Percussion" see the dancers showing off like preening peacocks, occasionally looking smugly at the audience as if to say, "How impressive am I?" Manuel Herrera excels in this regard, especially in the number "Backstreet Rivalry." He plays a city slicker out-dancing NYC newbie Cyril, danced by a similarly cocky Peter John Chursin.
And, of course, Dancin' regularly celebrates the bliss of simply, well, dancin'. The actors periodically deliver Fosse quotes that remind us a deep love for the art form was always on his mind. The purest proof is the Act 2 opener, "Sing, Sing, Sing," an exuberant whirlwind that goes from full-cast production number to trio to solo to duo and back to production number.
Fosse's choreography is usually called cynical, and the Act 1 closer, "Dancin' Man," is the best example. The performers sing hopeful lyrics about wanting to "leave footsteps on the sands of time" – but they dress alike, dance alike, and float on and off stage, suggesting they're unlikely to be remembered. But even this number has become euphoric with time. Decades later, we know Fosse was one of the rare few to make that mark.
The production doesn't always trust the choreography to deliver these messages. Some numbers over-rely on pumped-up musical arrangements (and volume), busy projections, and hit-and-miss dialogue to drive home the thrill the audience should feel. Luckily, the impressive, athletic cast outshines it all.
Standouts include the alluring Kolton Krouse, whose delicious showcases include "Spring Chicken," featuring the choreography of Cabaret's "Mein Herr." Jacob Guzman is effortlessly suave as the title character in "Mr. Bojangles" and later as the introducer of "Big Deal," a new sequence from Fosse's final musical from 1986. Ida Saki practically floats through her diverse numbers, from the tender pas de deux "If It Feels Good (Let It Ride)" to the martial "Rally Round the Flag."
Fosse, Cilento, and the cast remind us how powerful dance is as a storyteller. Bob Fosse's Dancin' doesn't just make old moves fresh — it makes us feel like we're discovering Fosse anew.
Photo credit: The company of Bob Fosse's Dancin' on Broadway. (Photo by Julieta Cervantes)
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