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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
When I was a girl my family had a fun tradition of a once-a-year dinner without soup, salad or main course, just a variety of cakes. My mother, a gifted baker, allowed each of us to choose a favorite from her extensive repertory.
None of the thirty-two trim and limber dancers who make up the cast of Fosse would dare to indulge in this calorie laden sort of delight. And yet, what they and the creators of this tribute to choreographer-dancer-director Bob Fosse dish up is much like my mother's cake dinners: a feast of delectable dancing served in no specific soup-to-nuts order and without concern about a potential overdose of Fosse's distinctive style of choreography. That means lots of black outfits, bowler hats, and dancing that has bodies -- heads, hips, fingers, toes-- in constant motion.
As all those cakes tended to taste alike after a while, two and a half hours (including two intermissions) of those twitching white-gloved fingers, tipped hats, stylized movements and stances tend to look more than a tad repetitive. And yet, it is this much reiterated and familiar Fosse-ness that overhangs this show that ties this menu together in the absence of book, narration or chronological schematic. What's more what starts out looking like too much of Fosse's limited arsenal of steps (he himself admitted to having just six) does have enough bounce to sustain variation after variation -- and inspire the thirty-two super talented members of this cast to execute each number with amazing razzle-dazzle precision.
Fosse fans might quibble with some of the choices made about what to include and exclude. Those not familiar with Fosse's media-spanning career (check out the variety of sources in list of show numbers at the end) might wish that those who had conceived the show had been more inclined to present it within the framework of some sort of explanatory text via narrator or overhead projections. On the whole, however, the crazy quilt collage style works well, especially the transitions in which dancers from the previous number initiate the one to follow .
Instead of trying to recreate the sources of the retrospective with scenery and costumes (à la Jerome Robbins'Broadway which, besides elaborate costumes and Jason Alexander as narrator, had a cast double the size of this one ) Fosse manages a more economical, unified look by way of Santo Loquasto's neon lit proscenium arches and some glittery ribbons of curtains. Interestingly, the only attempts at in-context numbers, Damn Yankees and the movie version of Chicago, are pretty enough but jarringly out of place. Costumes, also by Loquasto, are for the most part variations of black and white -- suits, itty bitty dresses and the inevitable bowlers and Fred Astaire style hats. The occasional departures from the Fosse look are more functional than distinctive. Lighting, of utmost importance to any show, is crucial in Fosse's cinematic dances and Andrew Bridge masterfully defines areas of visual interest.
Not all of the over thirty numbers are standouts, though each of the thirty-two dancers is a star. At the top of the sure to please everyone on all counts department are "Steam Heat" from Pajama Game featuring three of the cast's brightest lights -- Jane Lanier, Michael Paternostro and Alex Sanchez -- and "Big Spender" from Sweet Charity. As the show has no book (unless you bring your own memories to the numbers from book shows) it's also not a singing show. A few solos by the excellent Valarie Pettiford are an exception.
The show best represented throughout Fosse is, not surprisingly, Dancin', the 1978 revue which played at this very theater for 1072 performances. The big show stopper from that show, Benny Goodman's "Sing, Sing, Sing," also brings this revue-homage to a rousing conclusion -- with Patrick S. Brady's terrific orchestra taking center stage. What's particularly right about this finale is that it lights a fire under the whole enterprise. It makes one wish the whole show had this kind of inner warmth but maybe that's too much to expect from what's designed to be, and is, a crowd pleaser. With the dearth of distinctive dancing, and in many cases, any dancing, in Broadway musicals, perhaps one shouldn't quibble with a show that gives us a glimpse of just how much good dancing can energize the musical stage.
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