Now playing its first-ever Broadway revival at the Music Box Theatre, Bob Fosse’s Dancin’, a rethought version of the eponymous choreographer’s original 1978 Tony-winning Dancin’ (which he also created and directed), is an electrifying celebration of the art form and the legendary artist who revolutionized it, in such iconic stage musicals as Pal Joey, The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Sweet Charity, Pippin, and Chicago, and on the screen in Sweet Charity, Cabaret, and All That Jazz.
Newly reimagined and directed by original Tony-nominated cast member Wayne Cilento for our current times (with inclusive and genderful casting) and presented by special arrangement with Fosse’s (and Gwen Verdon’s) daughter Nicole, the show is not your traditional story-driven musical. It’s a dance revue, with a collection of vignettes shining a spotlight on Fosse’s original choreography in a variety of styles (reproduced by Christine Colby Jacques, with additional choreographic reproduction by Corinne McFadden Herrera) and on the phenomenal talents who deliver them, all individually (and deservedly!) recognized with featured performances and their names in neon lights for the final curtain calls (not just listed in the program as members of the company, as is often the case with dancers). They are: Ioana Alfonso, Yeman Brown, Peter John Chursin, Dylis Croman, Tony d’Alelio, Jōvan Dansberry, Karli Dinardo, Aydin Eyikan, Pedro Garza, Jacob Guzman, Manuel Herrera, Afra Hines, Gabriel Hyman, Kolton Krouse, Mattie Love, Krystal Mackie, Yani Marin, Nando Morland, Khori Michelle Petinaud, Ida Saki, Ron Todorowski, and Neka Zang.
Despite its self-described “plotless” format, there are spoken-word introductions to the show and its segments (with text consultation and additional material by Kirsten Childs) and voiceovers (sound by Peter Hylenski), including audio clips of Fosse himself, to set the stage for the dance numbers and the musicals they’re from – some of his most famous hits and some lesser-known and rarely seen works. There are also songs and enacted scenes performed by the amazing cast of triple threats, along with some added content, of excerpts from Fosse’s later (and last) Broadway musical Big Deal of 1986, and the return of the lengthy (and dated) “Big City Mime” – a brazenly sexual dance medley (evoking the Times Square area before the rampant XXX movie theaters, peep shows, porn shops, massage parlors, and street walkers were shut down in the 1990s, during the Giuliani administration), which was cut from the original production in its pre-Broadway run in Boston. So even without a straight-through narrative, there are storytelling elements within many of the pieces (with musical staging by Cilento).
But as in the title, it’s dancing to Fosse’s singular choreography that’s the main focus and draw, featuring everything from ballet and a romantic pas de deux to modern dance and tap to his own unmistakable signature elements (which he called the “Fosse amoeba”) of sideways shuffling, turned-in knees and feet, shimmying, shoulder-rolling, hip-thrusting, finger-snapping, and jazz hands, performed with white gloves, hats, and cigarette in mouth. Accompanied by a powerful fourteen-piece orchestra (with orchestrations, music supervision, vocal and incidental music arrangements by Jim Abbott; new music and dance arrangements by David Dabbon; and music direction by Justin Hornback), the twenty-two extraordinary dancers never cease to amaze with their strength and agility, control and flexibility, soaring jumps and high kicks, smooth moves and angular lines, consummate balance and flawless synchronicity, in addition to their vocals, character embodiments, and even bits of body percussion. Each and every one is breathtaking and each brings unsurpassed energy and discipline to the stage.
An arresting artistic design adds to the excitement of the show. A full array of costumes by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung, with hair and wigs by Ashley Wise and make-up by Suki Tsujimoto, are suited to the different styles of dance, the specific situations and periods of the vignettes, and the identities of the figures. There are dazzling active colorful video projections on the upstage wall (video design by Finn Ross) that inform and enhance each section and its mood, as does David Grill’s dramatic lighting. And Robert Brill’s scenic design, consisting of a cityscape of metal scaffolding, moves onto the stage for multi-level scenes and off to the sides to allow the open space to be filled with dance.
Some of the segments didn’t work as well for me as others. “Big City Mime” was overly long, though certainly indicative of Fosse’s brassy sexual content; “The Female Star Spot,” which questioned the less-than-feminist lyrics of Dolly Parton’s “Here You Come Again,” wasn’t as funny as intended; and “America” was a downer of patriotic anthems that haven’t held up over our troubled history. The most exhilarating numbers were the ones that closed Act I and opened Act II and featured the entire exuberant company and the pure joy of dancing – “Dancin’ Man” and “Benny’s Number” (performing to Benny Goodman’s 1937 swing-era blockbuster “Sing, Sing, Sing”). Dancin’ doesn’t get any better than that.
Since I never saw the original 1978 production of Dancin’, I can’t compare it to the present revival, but I can say that Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ is an impressive tribute to one of the greatest and most innovative choreographers in the history of Broadway and the superb company of dancers delivers his work with mastery, embodies everything he loved about the art, revisits it for lifelong fans, and introduces it to a new generation.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 15 minutes, including an intermission.
Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ plays through Sunday, May 14, 2023, at the Music Box Theatre, 239 West 45th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $104-318, including fees), go online. Masks are no longer required but are recommended.