Fosse is a must-see spectacular
by Bill Rodriguez
FOSSE. Choreography by Bob Fosse, re-created by Chet Walker. Co-directed by Richard
Maltby Jr. and Ann Reinking. With Lynn Sterling, Linda Bowen, Terace Jones, and
Josef Patrick Pescetto. At Providence Performing Arts Center through June 10.
Sustaining whip-crack high kicks and gymnastic choreography from first number
to last, the Tony Award-winning musical Fosse fills the Providence
Performing Arts Center with non-stop show-stoppers that out-sparkle even the
gilded opulence of the setting. Fosse is a must-see spectacular for
anyone who has ever been induced to tap a toe.
Ah, that choreography. Before his death in 1987, Bob Fosse won nine Tonys for
such hits as Chicago, Damn Yankees, and The Pajama Game.
His trademark choreographic style is artful showmanship full of stylized
gestures and static elements that accumulate into dense, angular tableaus when
the whole ensemble is variously posed.
Fosse used slow movements like Pinter uses pauses, to heighten our attention,
and for contrast to the high-energy that can burst forth at any time. This show
is a collection of greatest hit dance numbers, gems selected for their
brilliance set against others that are merely wonderful. A key creator of this
musical is Ann Reinking, the long-limbed danseuse so memorable in the 1979
biographical film about Fosse, All That Jazz. A long-time
protégé of Fosse and keeper of the flame, she co-directed the
production with Richard Maltby Jr. and co-choreographed with Chet Walker.
The billing has Fosse starring Linda Bowen, who is snappily prominent in
ensemble numbers and is featured along with Terace Jones and Josef Patrick
Pescetto in several others. However, pulling this disparate collection together
is the voice of dancer Lynn Sterling. What with the vagaries of show biz
inequities, and maybe an agent who doesn't like to pound tables, Sterling is
merely alphabetized in the 23-member ensemble. But what pipes. From the quiet
opening song, "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries," to the boppy "I Gotcha,"
Sterling delivers with style and effortless aplomb. (In contrast to, say,
Pescetto's insincere and maudlin delivery of the sincere though maudlin "Mr.
High points are frequent. "Bye-Bye Blackbird," from a Liza Minnelli TV
special, is an ingenious ensemble piece, quasi-techno in its mechanical
heartbeat, capturing city sounds and images, from police whistle percussion to
boxing moves as a swaggering choreographic motif. By the fifth number, our
attention is so assured that the show can stop cold for a wordless solo dance
from the 1978 Dancin', "Percussion 4." Terace Jones is a sinuous human
sculpture, bare-chested under lighting that models every muscle, performing a
tour de force of gymnastic grace that could go far to make choreography
an Olympic event.
Fosse's decisions were smart, constantly offering the imaginative or even
risky when the expected would do. His take on the "Big Spender," from Sweet
Charity, was to present a line of loose women, perfunctorily posing for
potential sugar daddies, languidly reciting provocative lines that read like
The genius of this choreographer was to make arms every bit as valuable in his
dances as legs. Hands are sometimes gloved, as in minstrelsy, to draw attention
to them. In "I Wanna Be a Dancin' Man," the Act I closer, the ensemble halts in
a finger-snap as one dancer ever-so slowly begins a hand-jive pattern, slapping
his thighs, with the others eventually joining in until the company has worked
into an enthralling crescendo. Marvelous.
No fool tossing out available dance history, Fosse employed balletic movements
often and gladly. Reinking choreographed "Dancing In the Dark" in Fosse's
style, segueing from passages George Balanchine could have designed. Joy is at
the rhythmic heart of Fosse's style, whether letting dancers have fun with Neil
Diamond's "Crunchy Granola Suite" or swinging to Benny Goodman's "Sing, Sing,
Sing," the kick-out-the-jams closing number by the entire rollicking company.
Fosse hit the stage kicking three years ago on Broadway, where it's
still pulling in sold-out audiences. This touring company can easily sustain
the wows echoing from the Broadhurst Theatre. No matter where your eye lands in
an ensemble number, you see another unflagging dancer who could impress in a
solo. This spirited company could light up a city during a power blackout.
Beg, borrow, or mug, but don't miss this world-class production. Dance in
musicals doesn't get better than this.