Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Review: Fosse for the Modern Age

by Michael Block

Let me preface this review with a story. When I was in sixth grade, my English teacher Mrs. Marokovich asked us to do a biography report and create a puppet for our presentation. In sixth grade, I chose to do a book report on Bob Fosse. And the puppet? A marionette. With a little cigarette of course. I chose a marionette because no other puppet could embody and emulate the movement that Fosse could do. I can’t remember what grade I received on this project. That part doesn’t matter. What matters is the impact that man had on my life. I saw that Tony winning musical that bears his name multiple times. And I knew the numbers lifted from this show for that one. I’m not a dancer. But I have an appreciation for the art form. Especially for the work of Bob Fosse. So when those formations hit the stage of the Music Box Theatre, a smile filled my face. I sincerely do not remember when a Broadway show achieved that. I’m here to say that DANCIN’ is the breath of life we need right now. 

photo by Sara Krulwich
photo by Sara Krulwich
DANCIN' is a celebration of the human form through song, dance, and the legacy of Bob Fosse.  Directed by Wayne Cilento, the revival of the 1978 production takes the skeleton of Fosse’s choreography and gives it a new skin with modern touch, proving Fosse’s body of work is simply timeless and effortlessly beautiful. Broken up into acts and further into movements, the revue celebrates Fosse’s love for theater, film, and television. Sprinkling in mini monologues and voice overs, the piece may not have a through line, yet the heart is how the show moves from moment to moment. The plotless musical doesn’t need a story as the dance speaks for itself. And what makes the dance speak? The fantastic figures that fill every inch of that space.   

There unquestionably is an explosion of talent on that stage. They all might not be the strongest triple threats, but damn can they dance! Sure, those mini monologues may not be what you’ll use in an audition for the likes of Ibsen or Shakespeare, they are simply there to move forward and fill the air before the next segment of astounding choreography. Cilento has allowed each member of his extraordinary company to master the Fosse compositions while permitting their individuality to shine through while still maintaining uniformity. All you need to do is keep your eye on a single dancer and watch their interpretation of the choreography and how it fits their body. Zoom out a moment and the formations are synchronistic and flawless. The shapes and silhouettes are a visual victory. 

There are some exceptional solos throughout the show but a special shout-out goes to the magnetizing Kolton Krause. Between “Spring Chicken” and the “Trumpet Solo” in “Sing, Sing, Sing”, they proved how beautiful Fosse’s choreography truly is. Krause is simply arresting. Other performers that caatch your eye and struck a major chord came from Dylis Croman, Yani Marin, Nando Morland, Khori Michelle Petinaud, and Ron Todorowski. But seriously, this cast is one of the best on the Great White Way. 

DANCIN’ was a piece where Fosse got to create his work of art that showcased a series of individual artists rather than a collaborative team. This allowed him to create dances to music that range from big band to Americana to rock and roll and pop. With that, the musical selection has been adjusted since it’s 1978 premiere and has continued to be triumphant. Who would have thought we’d live in a time where Neil Diamond’s “Crunchy Granola Suite” existed on Broadway in two separate shows at the same time? It’s the perfect opener as it set the tone with energy and Fosse moves that get you dancing in your seats. Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” takes a well-renowned song and gives it the Fosse treatment. One of the numbers that truly celebrates the marriage of song and dance is “I Wanna Be a Dancin’ Man.” The synchronicity of the hand movements, increasing in tempo and adding in dancers, is nothing short of a visual spectacle. For those true theater lovers and Fosse fanatics, it’s the moments that Cilento’s musical staging inserts some of Fosse’s most iconic choreography, that the audience is in for a true treat. We should all be thankful that the Big City Mime sequence was brought back for the revival from its original out of town tryouts as we were gifted appearances from “Big Spender”, “Mein Herr”, and “Rich Man’s Frug.” For a bit of a deeper cut, knowing Pippin’s “Glory” and “Manson Trio” are about to make a quick cameo ascertains just how impactful Fosse’s work is. Truly, an ode to the classics. Whether you are familiar with the music prior to attending DANCIN’, music supervisor and orchestrator Jim Abbott should be recognized as the unsung hero of the show. Abbott curated mind-blowing orchestrations that were authentic yet fresh. These are the songs you know with a contemporary flair. 

To make this show tick, the production brought together an exceptional creative team that highlighted Cilento’s musical staging. Cilento staging presented the musicality of the production elements’ choreography. The symbiosis of the choreography of dance and the choreography of the production through the synchronicity of movement does not go unnoticed. Every element was intricately carried through expertly allowing the synergy and inertia of each beat to thrive. From the speed of Robert Brill’s scenic elements to the cast of the lights by David Grill to the video visuals of the projections from Finn Ross, each element’s relationship amplified the choreography of the artists on the stage. There may be a misconception that ties black dance clothing to the work of Bob Fosse but costume designers Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung showcased how fabric and textiles strengthen the storytelling. The modernization of the production highlights how fashion and clothing can help express gender expression while muting the conversation instantaneously through a genderless uniform. Once again, no matter the body, Fosse’s work speaks for itself.    

I urge you to attempt to sit in your seat and not feel the desire to move your body as the music dips and swells as the dancers do what they do best: dance. This production of DANCIN’ is important to the artform of dance. This modern realization has proven that music and dance can and will bring harmony despite the world outside the doors of the theater. We deserve a moment to release from reality and simply enjoy art. DANCIN’ is that production. Go.