Dancin’: Celebrating an Art Form

Bob Fosse developed the musical Dancin’ as both a tribute to and a departure from his signature choreographic style. The show, which premiered on Broadway in 1978, was conceived as a celebration of dance itself, showcasing a wide variety of dance styles and techniques in a series of distinct sequences, each with its own style. Fosse used this structure to experiment with different choreographic techniques and to explore the boundaries of what was possible within the realm of dance.

It worked. The initial production ran for 1,774 performances and launched a national tour that included different scenes and dances, demonstrating the creator’s versatility and his ability to create scenes and moments focused almost entirely on dance.

The Broadway revival of Dancin’, directed by original 1978 cast member Wayne Cilento, similarly showcases some truly exceptional footwork. The precision and athleticism of the performers make watching each dance an absolute joy, and the sheer energy and passion of the dance sequences are a testament to Fosse’s skill as a choreographer. There isn’t a weak link in the cast of 22 and, given the amount of singing and acting involved in each scene, they all prove themselves to be gifted triple-threat performers.

While the dancing is uniformly excellent, the show as a whole feels unfocused and overlong. It inevitably invites comparisons to the 2000 revue Fosse, which similarly celebrated the choreographer’s work and included many routines created for Dancin’. While that show felt like a proper revue, the inclusion of occasional narratives and dialogue within some of the scenes in Dancin’ makes this production feel like something in between a revue and a collection of short musical plays. A significant portion of the second act recreates scenes and dances from Fosse’s final musical, Big Deal, which closed after less than two months on Broadway. While it is wonderful to see the choreography from a relatively unknown Fosse show, condensing a full-length musical into a 15-minute excerpt doesn’t give the audience a real sense of what Big Deal could have been and feels shoehorned in.

Similarly, the inclusion of some of Fosse’s best-known dances without the songs that went with them can be jarring for fans of his work. Kolton Krouse shines while recreating the iconic choreography for “Mein Herr,” but sings a completely different song while they dance it. (Krouse, it should be mentioned, is a highlight among the uniformly excellent ensemble.) “Big Spender” and ”Rich Man’s Frug” (Sweet Charity), “From This Moment On” (Kiss Me, Kate) and the “Manson Trio” (Pippin) also appear at different points in the show, but never with the music that originally accompanied them. (In the second act, one of the dancers requests “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” from Sweet Charity and is informed that the production couldn’t get the rights to the song, so that may explain the changes.) Those who are less familiar with Fosse’s choreography may not find these moments disconnecting, but they can certainly cause some confusion for devotees.

Cilento, already a Tony Award-winning choreographer, proves an effective director, recreating Fosse’s style while emphasizing the emotion of each scene. David Grill’s lighting design takes its cues from arena concerts, frequently blinding the audience, whilePeter Hylenski’s sound design of Jim Abbot’s smart arrangements highlights the brass but occasionally leans towards deafening. Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung’s costume designs are especially brilliant, often evoking the formalware of classic movie musicals but making the suits and ties

Still, the show as a whole is a lot of fun and a wonderful celebration of how dance can spark emotion in an audience. If nothing else, it is a great way to introduce a new generation to a legendary choreographer’s work and to celebrate his vision.

Jena Tesse Fox
Jena Tesse Fox has been writing about theater for more than a decade. Her reviews and articles have appeared on Playbill.com, TimeOut.com and BroadwayWorld.com. She also hosts the Spotlight podcast on BroadwayRadio.com.

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