Theatre Review by Howard Miller - March 19, 2023
Cast: Ioana Alfonso, Yeman Brown, Peter John Chursin, Dylis Croman, Tony d'Alelio, Jovan 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.
Theater: Music Box Theatre, 239 West 45th Street (Between Broadway and 8th Avenue), New York NY
This is all a theatrical illusion, of course, because the performances we get to watch on stage have been at least as rigorously rehearsed as they might be for any carefully choreographed and scripted musical. But illusion or not, it is the sense of celebration that sets Bob Fosse's Dancin' apart, the thing that makes the show such a pleasure to experience. And this is true whether you are an aficionado of dance or just someone who is happy to be richly entertained for a couple of hours.
Before we get into what this show is, let's talk about what it isn't. For instance, even though this was originally a product of the creative mind of renowned and notoriously egotistical choreographer/director Bob Fosse, it is far from an anthology of reproduced numbers from Fosse's previous shows.
It certainly could have been that. Fosse's stage musicals, on which he worked in various capacities, included The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Sweet Charity, Pippin, and Chicago. So, surely, there was plenty to draw from if that was the intent. Yet don't go looking for a Fosse version of later shows like Jerome Robbins' Broadway or Prince of Broadway. Oh, there are enough hats, cigarettes, angular poses, and jazz hands to remind you of the master, but what makes the show so special is that, even though Fosse eschewed traditional theatrical collaborators and focused exclusively on choreographing the entire two hours, it is less an ego trip than it is a tribute to his own love of dance.
The effort to stay true to its origins is strong, which means that both the show's strengths and its weaknesses remain. The primary strength is the cast of 22 amazing dancers, who, with great skill and aplomb, respond to every challenge, from classical ballet moves to jazz dance to tap (not enough of that!) to feats of gymnastic strength and body contortions that would keep a team of chiropractors in business for a very long time.
Best of all the set pieces are two wonderful production numbers. Act I ends with a tribute to Fred Astaire, or, perhaps, to Fosse's inner Astaire, called "Dancin' Man," while Act II begins with a performance by the company of "Benny's Number," a nuclear version of "Sing, Sing, Sing," originally made famous by Benny Goodman, in which the dancers and the extraordinary musicians set the theater ablaze. Along with these two particularly splendid numbers, there are other smaller pleasures to be found throughout. I especially loved the performance of "Mr. Bojangles," as sung by Manuel Herrera and danced by Jacob Guzman and Yeman Brown, but you will find your own favorites among the smaller pieces.
Contributing in no small part to the effectiveness of the overall production are Jim Abbott's terrific orchestrations that work collaboratively with the dancing while cleverly slipping in bits of music you will likely recognize from other Fosse shows; the backdrop of lighting by David Grill and videos by Finn Ross; and the splendid array of colorful costumes by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung.
If the evening had ended with "Benny's Number," it would have been utter perfection. But the last thirty minutes of the show are dedicated to odds and ends of dance pieces, as if they were plucked from a file folder of unfinished ideas. One of these is called "America," which seems to be more of a Rockettes performance of patriotic numbers ("Rally 'Round the Flag," "Yankee Doodle Dandy," and so forth) than a Fosse dance. It's hard to even guess at what Fosse had in mind for this and for the other ephemera that make up the last portion of the show, but it is definitely a puzzle. Still and all, that would be my only hesitation against what is an often thrilling program of dance from an iconic theater choreographer.