Monday, April 10, 2023

REVIEW: Bob Fosse's Dancin'

Review of the matinee performance on Sunday, April 2, 2023 at the Music Box Theatre in New York City. Original Broadway production created, directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse. Starring Ioana Alfonso, Yeman Brown, Peter John Chursin, Dylis Croman, Tony d'Alelio, Jovan Dansberry, Karli Dinardo, Jacob Guzman, Manuel Herrera, Kolton Krouse, Mattie Love, Krystal Mackie, Nando Morland, Khori Michelle Petinaud, Ida Saki and Ron Todorowski. Voiceover by Bob Fosse. Scenic design by Robert Brill. Costume design by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung. Lighting design by David Grill. Sound design by Peter Hylenski. Video design by Finn Ross. Reproduction of Mr. Fosse's choreography by Christine Colby Jacques. Additional choreographic reproduction by Corinne McFadden Herrera. Choreography by Bob Fosse. Direction and musical staging by Wayne Cilento. 2 hours, 15 minutes, including one intermission.

Grade: A 

Much in the way Sondheim has always shaped my love for the possibilities of content and character development in musicals, so too has Bob Fosse influenced my aesthetic preferences for shows. Dark edges, complex psychology, and unique body placement are his tools to convey character, motivation and storytelling. Dancers who perform his work are a special group - they work to not only perform his choreography, but to understand it, from the broadest leap to the tiniest finger twirl in isolation. And from that, they share with the world the joy of the art form. The recently opened revival of Dancin' is a sexy, razzle-dazzling reminder of the man and his brilliant legacy.

I saw the original production on tour back in the early 80's, my first brush with seeing Fosse moves performed live. It was a life-changing experience for me. From that moment, I devoured everything I could get my hands on related to him, his shows and his dancers (no small feat, pre-internet). And so, a little bit of me was worried that this revival would, in some way, disappoint or mar my memories of the revue. Turns out, I worried for nothing.

Original cast member and Tony-nominated for his efforts then, Wayne Cilento, directs and stages this re-do with a knowledgeable and loving hand. His affection and reverence for his mentor are clear from the moment the first dancer makes his way downstage, back lit to emphasize his movement first, blending into a spotlight to reveal the complete human. Not a single dance step has yet happened and Cilento has made the production's intentions crystal clear. He has worked closely with Christine Colby Jacques, Corinne McFadden Herrera and Lauren Cannon to re-create and reproduce Mr. Fosse's original work. All involved have taken on a monumental task, and have done so brilliantly.

Though all of the moves - from the jaunty splayed fingers at the brim of a straw hat to the cocky, disinterested bent heads and hip isolations - are here and meticulously performed, as any Fosse fan knows, each dancer's individuality is to be celebrated, as well. Mr. Cilento has gathered a gifted company that has mastered the technique and demands of unison, while embracing each member's singular vibe. To that end, several members of the company stand out. As the principal dancer in the "Big City Mime" section of Act One, Peter John Chursin exudes an energy that makes his transition from small town rube to street smart city boy not only believable but dazzling. Within that sequence (and several others throughout), Dylis Croman draws the audience in with her sleek moves and clear, easy sense of humor. She's particularly wonderful in the deconstruction of "Here You Come Again" number. Other stand outs include two dancers making their Broadway debuts, Mattie Love and Tony d'Alelio, veteran singer/dancer Manuel Herrera (the original Chistery in Wicked), and Jacob Guzman.

The beauty of this Dancin' update is its inclusiveness, which I'm sure Fosse himself would fully endorse. No company member better represents this than the positively glowing Kolton Krouse, openly non-binary and luminous in every number they are in. You can feel the joy they are feeling as they infuse a playful energy in the Cabaret-adjacent "Spring Chicken" number. And, in the "Sing Sing Sing" solo made famous by Ann Reinking, Krouse powerfully commands the stage with an exhilarating free abandon. Simply beautiful.

Finally, in a major update to the show, Cilento has added a significant section that reproduces portions of Fosse's Tony-winning final original work, Big Deal. What an opportunity for all musical theater fans! Chanteuse Khori Michelle Petinaud makes a meal out of "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries," while Tony d'Alelio and Nando Morland pretty much stop the show with their glorious moves in "Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar."

As terrific as this update is, not all of updates are as successful. Aside from its excellent use in the curtain call, Finn Ross' video projections are more often a distraction than a nice supplement to the staging. More than once, they took me out of the moment, and twice made me a little dizzy. Robert Brill's set design consists of largely utilitarian moving light towers with stairs and platforms. Not remarkable, but fitting for a show that is just dancin'. Finally, Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung's costume designs are mostly modern updates, concentrating on letting us see the dancers' bodies clearly. That said, a few scenes feature unattractive-to-the-point-of-distracting costumes.

The real glory of this accomplished revival is that a whole new generation of theater fans can see first-hand the important, historic contribution to musicals by one of the greatest choreographer-directors ever to grace Broadway.

📸: J. Cervantes

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