You don’t have to love dance or understand dance to fall head-over-heels in love with”Bob Fosse’s Dancin’,” but if you are passionate about this art form — be prepared to be mesmerized.
It begins with advisement as a warning, telling the audience not to expect a plot (almost plotless) or a message (no messages).
“Bob Fosse’s Dancin'” 2023 is a revival of the 1978 stage show which reincarnates the spirit and choreography of the great Bob Fosse. This is a full-throated, full-bodied celebration of dancers and dancing, a reimagined for the 21st century with production’s direction and musical staging, is by Tony Award-winner Wayne Cilento, one of the stars of the original Broadway production, and is produced in cooperation with Nicole Fosse.
Bob Fosse’s DANCIN’ on Broadway
The players alone give you some sense of the authenticity of the production. This is 120 minutes of wall-to-wall dance. There’s joy in this show which is expressed by its 16 dancers, representing a solid range of body types, gender presentation, ages, and ethnicity. These well-formed storytellers know the power of a seemingly simple wiggle, the slight movement of the hip or fingers. If you know Fosse’s body vocabulary (utterly distinctive), then you understand there’s more than just an isolated shoulder rotating. Those off-center jumps and controlled pelvic contractions that look like the dancers are taking a hard hit to the gut are all carefully crafted to tell a complicated and multi-layered story without a plot, remember, or message.
After the opening sequence, the first dance number is set inside a jail —”Recollections of an Old Dancer” appears to give homage to the legacy of African American dance inside American culture. The tune “Mr. Bojangles” is tied with the spirit of Bill Robinson, who shares his spirit and moves with a prisoner.
In making up the revival’s 14 numbers, most of them are new and/or newish with some key alternations. One of the newest ones brings its happiness, is 21 minutes long, and the centerpiece of Act One — “Big City Mime” — where dancer Peter John Chursin shines. Caught inside the wicked city of Sodom, his innocence is forced to rub shoulders with the underbelly. A lesson, it seems, begins his journey to get stronger. Those “lessons” reach a climax in the Act I finale in the number “Dancin’ Man,” which includes the complete ensemble dressed identically in straw hats, bow ties, and blue suits. They move as one, but again — that’s one of Fosse’s signatures. Act Two opens with a banger of an opening —”Sing, Sing, Sing” and a bit later, a sequence set to a medley of songs used to rouse the patriotic spirit, including quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Amanda Gorman.
The vocal and incidental music arrangements by Jim Abbott should be applauded. It can be challenging to do this with a 14-person band that keeps every exciting. Lighting and design by David Grill do not overpower the dancers; instead, it enhances them with a specific choice in using a 49-by-28-foot LED wall (video design by Finn Ross) and four three-story towers (by Robert Brill). Understated and perfect.
Now to the costumes by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung, who learned their craft in ballet, they were ten out of ten. Not only beautiful and often whimsical but functional where the skilled craftsmanship shows itself. It’s hard to highlight a dancer because the key to Fosse’s work is to make them seem like one mind, thought, and body. But there are a few that my colleagues are gushing about that you might want to do some research on, and they include Jacob Guzman (Hamilton), Manuel Herrera (West Side Story), and Ron Todorowski (Angeles In America).
In the press notes, director Wayne Cilento said this, which I will leave you with: “It’s been 45 years since I performed in the original production and I’m honored to be directing this first-ever revival. My vision for Dancin’ included a fresh, updated take on the show and to introduce Fosse to a new generation of audiences.”
Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ At the Music Box Theater, Manhattan; dancinbway.com. Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes.