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Bob Fosse's Dancin' review: Sing, sing, singin' the praises of dance and a master of the craft

Bob Fosse's Dancin' review: Sing, sing, singin' the praises of dance and a master of the craft

Like many a small town gay with a love of theatricality and and just putting on a show, I looked forward to the Tonys broadcast on CBS as the closest proximity I could get to Broadway.

At the 1999 awards, Fosse, a tribute to the late choreographer and director Bob Fosse, was up for eight Tonys, including Best Musical. As was custom on the Tonys, and why we all tune in, each Best Musical nominee was given some time to show the gay kids at home, and potential visitors to the Great White Way, what all the fuss was about.

Fosse was full to the brim of it bowler hats with iconic numbers, from the likes of Chicago, Cabaret, Sweet Charity, Liza with a Z, and Damn Yankees — a comprehensive vocabulary of Fosse's languid, lyrical movements — but the show closed with "Sing, Sing, Sing," from 1979's Dancin', a plotless, musical revue directed and choreographed by the prolific Fosse.

Bob Fosse's DANCIN' at The Music Box Theatre
Bob Fosse's DANCIN' at The Music Box Theatre

Julieta Cervantes 'Bob Fosse's Dancin'' at The Music Box Theatre

To the tune of the jazz standard immortalized by Benny Goodman in 1937, the cast of Fosse, in zoot suits and sequined flapper dresses, leapt, kicked, and jazz-handed their way across the '99 Tonys stage. It was so dynamic. And everyone looked like they were having so much fun!

"This is Broadway, baby!" I remember thinking to myself. When Fosse won Best Musical that night, I understood why. With all that energy and style and flare, how couldn't it? Though, admittedly, it also had some pretty forgettable competition — like, does anyone talk about actual musical The Civil War?

During the pandemic, on one of my many nights spent lost down a YouTube wormhole, I found the 1978 Tonys, where Dancin' was up for seven awards (winning, unsurprisingly, Best Choreography). The cast also performed "Sing, Sing, Sing," and while it was the same choreography from Fosse, this performance was sexier, more supple, more vibrant, and more alive.

Bob Fosse's DANCIN' at The Music Box Theatre
Bob Fosse's DANCIN' at The Music Box Theatre

Julieta Cervantes

I attributed this to Fosse himself, a notoriously demanding perfectionist whose films, stage productions, and choreography all possessed a cheeky vulgarity, giving his work a mix of camp, sex, and rigorous athleticism.

Those qualities are thankfully not lost in translation in the 2023 revival of Dancin', the show's first ever Broadway revival, opening March 19 at the Music Box Theatre. Original Dancin' cast member Wayne Cilento (nominated in '78 for Featured Actor in a Musical) seems the perfect fit to bring this joyous terpsichorean celebration back to where it belongs.

Cilento, who serves as director and also handles the musical staging, sought to update the show and introduce Bob Fosse to a new generation — and he mostly succeeds.

Bob Fosse's DANCIN' Production
Bob Fosse's DANCIN' Production

Julieta Cervantes

Fresh off a heart attack and his mortality and patience thinning, Fosse eschewed working with an artistic collaborator for Dancin', instead choosing already existing music and omitting a plot altogether. The result was both old-fashioned — these kinds of plotless or plot-thin revues had been popular since the Ziegfeld Follies — but also, being Bob Fosse, bold, fresh, and new, incorporating pop, rock, country, Mozart, and Bach around ambitious set pieces and complex choreography.

It may have been a bit too bold, however, for Dancin' co-producer Bernard Jacobs.

During a tryout in Boston, Jacobs objected to the risqué "Big City Mime," a sensuous Broadway ballet following a tourist as he encounters the charms of Times Square, including sex workers, seedy dive bars, and massage parlors. Fosse cut the ballet from the original Dancin', but this time around Cilento restores it to great effect.

Bob Fosse's DANCIN' Production
Bob Fosse's DANCIN' Production

Julieta Cervantes 'Bob Fosse's Dancin'' at The Music Box Theatre

Featuring snippets of "Hey Big Spender' from Sweet Charity and "I Gotcha" from Liza with a Z, "Big City Mime" is mesmerizing among the costume changes (the dressers in this show could solve world peace by dinner time), the set changes, and... ah, the dancing!

It also feels tame by today's standards. This was banned in Boston? What feels more revolutionary is the casting. Fosse's best work always had a sort of queer subtext.

The most obvious example being the gay fever dream that is Cabaret, rooted in Christopher Isherwood's (required gay reading) Goodbye to Berlin. Liza! Young, beautiful Michael York as young, beautiful, bisexual Brian Roberts, Joel Grey's masterful Master of Ceremonies. With Bob Fosse's Dancin' that subtext is freed up to prance and pounce as text with a cast across the spectrums of gender and identity.

Kolton Krouse in Bob Fosse's DANCIN' at The Music Box Theatre
Kolton Krouse in Bob Fosse's DANCIN' at The Music Box Theatre

Julieta Cervantes 'Bob Fosse's Dancin'' at The Music Box Theatre

Dancin' stars 22 of the best dancers Broadway has to offer and they are all gorgeous. Watching them move is a sexual thrill in itself. Even though what they're doing is so intricate and demanding, there's a palpable joy — ecstasy really — in their dance, which gives the show a feeling more of a party than a play. As far as Broadway audiences go, mine was a little rowdy. A reaction both to elaborate postures and at-times elaborate skin-baring costumes.

A note about those costumes by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung: cute. Broadway costumes aren't usually known for being fashion forward but these are about as close as we're going to get.

Robert Brill's scenic design pays homage to Fosse's love of film, with a giant scaffolding reminiscent of his 1979 autobiographical and highly recommended film All That Jazz. Cilento said he wanted to bring "Bob's love of film to the forefront of our design and bring him to life through the monologues and storytelling of the dancers."

Nando Morland, Mattie Love and Tony d'Alelio in Bob Fosse's DANCIN'
Nando Morland, Mattie Love and Tony d'Alelio in Bob Fosse's DANCIN'

Julieta Cervantes 'Bob Fosse's Dancin'' at The Music Box Theatre

Dancin', then, is both an ode to dancin' and to the late Fosse, who died in 1987 at age 60. The show is produced in cooperation with Nicole Fosse, his daughter with Gwen Verdon. At the time of his death, Fosse was supposedly working on Dancin' Too, a follow-up to what had been his biggest financial success in the theater. This show is more than a fitting ode to both, but its format presents a specific, if ironic, challenge: momentum.

A lack of plot doesn't mean that there's just dance after dance without context. There are songs, there's dialogue, there are moments of monologue, and quotes from Bob Fosse that serve to thread a section together or to transition from one set piece to the next.

When the show hits — does it hit. Serotonin from tip to taint. But there are a few lulls, most often when the dance isn't the main focus. The spoken parts can feel awkward at times and because Fosse's movements are so distinctive they can also become a bit repetitive.

Jacob Guzman and Mattie Love in Bob Fosse's DANCIN'
Jacob Guzman and Mattie Love in Bob Fosse's DANCIN'

Julieta Cervantes 'Bob Fosse's Dancin'' at The Music Box Theatre

The "America" section of Dancin' felt the most labored to me. Fosse makes an appearance in voiceover, reading quotes about America from Thomas Paine, Sigmund Freud, Al Capone, Will Rogers, Martin Luther King Jr, and Daniel Webster.

While a lot can be said about America in 2023, I didn't come away understanding any particular perspective, which seemed more like a missed opportunity than anything else. However, David Grill's lighting design and Finn Ross' video design, featuring a massive wall-sized screen projecting images of soldiers marching and the American flag, did add some visual splendor.

"America" was the last big number in the original 1978 Dancin', but the 2023 version closes with "Big Deal," a caper in choreography that borrows from Fosse's final work, the 1986 musical of the same name. It's another well-staged, beautifully danced set piece but I couldn't help but feel I had blow my wad, as it were, with the second act opener.

Karli Dinardo, Mattie Love and Ida Saki in Bob Fosse's DANCIN'
Karli Dinardo, Mattie Love and Ida Saki in Bob Fosse's DANCIN'

Photo by Julieta Cervantes 'Bob Fosse's Dancin'' at The Music Box Theatre

I was waiting for "Sing Sing Sing." I came in singing Benny Goodman — wagging my finger like a Dorothy Zbornack after demanding something with a little more OCTANE! — visions of zoot suits and blurry YouTube videos dancing in my head. It did not disappoint.

The first part of the performance ends with everyone in a split and the small town gay inside of me screamed. "This is Broadway, baby!" The party vibe was the strongest during this freewheeling, effervescent number and I counted at least one person standing applauding when it was done. It's a showstopper and a surefire crowd pleaser.

And I can only hope that when this show is inevitably nominated for Best Musical at the Tonys that they complete the "Sing Sing Sing" trifecta with another performance of this number for future theater fans to fall in love with just as I did.

Bob Fosse's DANCIN' Production
Bob Fosse's DANCIN' Production

Julieta Cervantes 'Bob Fosse's Dancin'' at The Music Box Theatre

If Cilento and the cast and crew of Dancin' hope to attract a new generation to Fosse, then this show comes at a very interesting time when issues of gender and gender presentation are being hotly contested while TikTok has turned everyone into a dancer. The joy of movement, after all is universal. And even with a few missteps along the way, that joy pulses through Bob Fosse's Dancin'. A

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