Razzle Dazzle at the Peace Center: Fosse- the Musical Snaps, Crackles and Pops

Theatre review originally published in MetroBeat

 

It opens quietly, the magnificent voice of Reva Rice singing that “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries,” then explodes into a fast-paced evening of dance excitement. Fosse-the Musical, quite simply, rocks. From the Stomp-like “Percussion 4” to the sex-drenched “Take Off With Us” to the electrifying finale set to Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing,” Fosse never ceases to draw us into the magical world of one of Broadway’s all-time greats.

Fosse was conceived by Richard Maltby. Jr., Chet Walker and Ann Reinking as a tribute to and celebration of the choreography of Bob Fosse (1927-1987), the only person to win an Oscar, a Tony and an Emmy in the same year, all for directing. Reinking in particular has impeccable credentials to stage such a piece: not only was she Fosse’s long-time lover, she also danced for Fosse both on stage and on film. She and Walker have lovingly recreated some of Fosse’s most well-known and, in many cases, under-appreciated (and seldom seen) numbers. Some of the best appear early in the evening, during the first act. “Big Spender” rightly maintains a place of honor within the Fosse pantheon, a deliciously sly number that remains one of Fosse’s best exercises in sex, humor and attitude. “From the Edge” and “Percussion 4,” both from the 1978 hit Dancin’, prefigure Stomp in their percussive musical style, and also demonstrate the range of Fosse’s creations. Utilizing what was really a rather limited dance vocabulary (angled limbs, spread-fingered hand movements and bowler hats all appear in nearly every Fosse production) Fosse could nevertheless bring on a different texture within each piece, making the same old movements seem fresh every time.

The dance company assembled for this touring production tackle even the most challenging numbers with ease. Many of the set pieces have so much going on at once that you could watch them again and again, keeping your eye on a different dancer each time. There’s always something wonderful happening on stage. The songs are also well-done, with Reva Rice in particular demonstrating a tremendous vocal ability. Her rendition of “Mein Herr,” Liza Minnelli’s showpiece from Cabaret, stands up quite well to the original. Josef Patrick Pescetto gives a heartfelt rendition of “Mr. Bojangles” to accompany a bittersweet dance featuring the older Bojangles (Lloyd Culbreath) shadowed by the spirit of his younger self (the excellent Terace Jones). Other highlights include “Fosse’s World,” an original number staged by Ann Reinking that synthesizes many of Fosse’s signature moves and serves as a prelude to the overall structure of the evening: a loose chronology of Fosse’s career from vaudeville to stage to screen. “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” expands on Fosse’s original vision by staging the number (from the 1979 film All That Jazz) twice — first as Fosse conceived it, then repeated in a surreal, slow-motion recapitulation that emphasizes the piece’s origin as Fosse’s own look at his impending death. It’s a powerful and evocative number.

The orchestra delivers some powerhouse sound and the minimal set works quite effectively, with set change transitions sensibly built in to the choreography. It’s a thoroughly professional and polished show. I suspect that if Bob Fosse himself were to see Fosse – the Musical, he’d grumble about the lack of precision evident in a couple of the dancers, but overall he’d be pleased. The show succeeds in capturing the energy and spirit of Fosse’s genius. He really knew how to razzle dazzle us.

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