Review: Pre-Broadway Run of Bob Fosse's Dancin' Makes More Than a Couple Missteps
In 1978, Bob Fosse created an evening spotlighting the artistry of dance called Dancin', utilizing songs from the '70s, previous decades, and classical music. Currently at the Old Globe in San Diego, the revival of Bob Fosse's Dancin' is having its pre-Broadway run, under the direction of Wayne Cilento, one of the original cast members. Though many Fosse routines have been re-created for this production, the flavor and the meticulousness of his genius is missing.
The evening begins with a number by Neil Diamond, "Crunchy Granola Suite." With two singers hanging off the sides with microphones, and several dancers out-of-sync, the evening already feels like a cruise ship show, and that sets the standard for the rest of the night. The numbers have no cohesion, and since the original show was not meant to be a compilation of Fosse's other works, adding in a dance sequence from Kiss Me, Kate, the "Big Spender" number from Sweet Charity, and a sped-up reboot of Fosse's final show, the flop Big Deal, seems off-brand.
There is an entire sequence called "America?," which includes political quotes and seems to be a battle cry for the downtrodden. But because there are no characters with whom the audience has connected, the sequence remains an empty gesture. "The Female Star Spot" number, with several company members bewailing the dating pool while singing Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil's "Here You Come Again", is tone-deaf and removable.
Cilento misses the vitality of Fosse's dances and technique, with a cast whose movements lack unity and synchronization. Fosse's signature style is so specific that if there are multiple variations of the same movement, it sticks out like a sore thumb. Given how dance has evolved since the original production in technical proficiency, every dancer on stage should have been the cream of the crop, but they are not. Too many of the dancers marked their moves without fully honoring Fosse's iconic vocabulary.
Several cast members do shine. Khori Michelle Petinaud is a bluesy singer who latches on to "Life Is Like a Bowl of Cherries." Tony d'Alelio is always electric whether within the ensemble like ''Sing, Sing, Sing" or pulling off one of Fosse's most thrilling routines, "Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar." Manuel Herrera shakes the stage with his voice in "Mr. Bojangles" and in all his sequences; he flows effortlessly like dance has just been invented with his movements. Yeman Brown seems to have putty in his skin instead of bones and flawlessly embodies Mr. Bojangles himself.
The barebones set uses Finn Ross's video design to significant effect. Jim Abbott's orchestrations along with David Dabbon's arrangements make the songs sound alive and fresh. Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung create some imaginative nude illusion costumes along with pulling together multiple fun fringe and '60s mod outfits.
If you're doing a show with no plot, characters, or original music, the dancing must be spectacular. Though Fosse's original steps were groundbreaking, the technique in Bob Fosse's Dancin' is sloppy. The production may not have two left feet, but both feet are not placed with the exactitude that would have made Fosse proud.