2004 Season - “Fosse”

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From: The Long Island Advance - 8/26/04



From: South Shore Press

THEATER REVIEW

The dances of a lifetime (Fosse's) and for all time

BY STEVE PARKS
STAFF WRITER

August 23, 2004

Since his death in 1987 from living too large, Bob Fosse's legacy has been nurtured protectively by Ann Reinking, muse of his mid-life crisis. Reinking, who elevated Fosse's "Chicago" to masterpiece status in the still-kicking revival, co-conceived "Fosse," the glitzy post-mortem tribute that won the 1999 Tony for best musical while earning the scorn of critics.

Maybe she was listening to them. Debra McWaters, the choreography protege to whom Reinking entrusted the national and international tours of "Fosse," has treated the revue as organic epitaph rather than mausoleum etching.

Now, as the show's director and choreographer, McWaters has given her regional theater blessing to Gateway Playhouse, the first company in the United States to stage "Fosse" since its post- Broadway tours. Her passion for the dance-as-life revue communicates its motion vernacular even to dance illiterates.

Still, it helps to have at least some appreciation of dance's place - and Fosse's - in American musical theater. The only story line is the reflection of his life in his art, which will survive him for decades to come. The 26 dance "scenes" span three decades of his career: "Steam Heat" from "The Pajama Game" in 1954 to "Dancin' Man (Me and My Shadow)" from "Big Deal" in 1986.

A limber cast, assembled from "Fosse" touring companies and New York auditions that lured back graduates of the Broadway original, limns serial vignettes spoken in the universal language of body. And when dance is accompanied by lyrics, voices flow out of movement - with lips and tongues choreographed like other pieces of anatomy.

Among the voices: Harry Bayron and Darren Lorenzo bookend the show with variations on "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries," from "Big Deal"; in a number from the 1972 TV special, "Liza With a Z"; Lorenzo waves "Bye Bye Blackbird" with an earthy so-long; Ken Alan, James Kinney and Rosanne Colosi hiss like animated radiators in "Steam Heat," and the entire female ensemble (including Ashley Fitzgerald, who executes dance moves with her hair) whores it up with straight-faced, twisted-body hilarity in "Big Spender" ("Sweet Charity"). But the lyrical showstopper is an understated "Mr. Bojangles" ("Dancin'"), narrated in song by Bayron, while Lorenzo and his shadow of youth, Alan, pantomime the heartbreak of Bojangles' dissipated life.

Dance-only numbers range from the sexy (the "Three Pas de Deux" modern ballet and a barely dressed, full-ensemble "Orgy") to the violent (finger-shooting gunplay in "Cool Hand Luke" from a 1968 Bob Hope special and pugilist air-punching in "From the Edge" from "Dancin'").

McWaters has brought a seamlessness to these disparate dance visions, which on Broadway misfired as staccato scattershots. Gone are the blackouts between numbers, replaced by exit/entry segues that move the show along at a brisk two-hour pace (except for the long big-band finale). With help from Michael Boyer's minimalist sets amplified with rare bursts of color, Doug Harry's stark lighting, costumer Marianne Dominy's myriad shades of black, and Jeff Hoffman's classically trained honky-tonk musical direction, "Fosse" is transformed into a musical revue worthy of its namesake.

FOSSE. Long Island and regional theater premiere of the Bob Fosse revue. Created by Richard Maltby Jr., Chet Walker and Ann Reinking, with Gwen Verdon as artistic adviser. A Gateway Playhouse production at the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts, 71 E. Main St., Patchogue, through Sept. 4. Seen opening night Wednesday.

Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.

 


From: The Southampton Press 8/26/04

High-Flying 'Fosse' A Gateway Winner

By Lee Davis

If there were an award for best, most exciting, most dazzling and tightly performed dancing of this or any other season of shows in this part of the world, the Gateway Playhouse would win this year, hands down and grand jetes up.

True, Marsha Milgrom Dodge's dances for the present Bay Street mounting of "Once On This Island" are exhilarating and inventive. But for uniform elevated talent wedded to sheer showbiz pizzazz, stunning spectacle and energy enough to power a flotilla of ocean liners, Gateway takes the prize. First, in July, there was the startlingly moody production of "Cats" in Patchogue, seemingly a feat hard to beat. But now, in August, "Cats" has been bettered by the Gateway production of "Fosse" at the same Patchogue Theatre.

This nuclear powered, intoxicating and invigorating evening of Bob Fosse choreography, captured and apparently still supervised with an iron hand by Ann Reinking, (Debra McWaters, the director/choreographer of the Patchogue production, has been Ann Reinking's associate for 14 years and was the assistant choreographer for the current Broadway revival of "Chicago") is an evening full of memory-makers. Assisted by no less than three dance captains, and the slightly less than 50 percent presence of veterans of either the Broadway or international production of "Fosse," this mounting has all the snap, polish and-what is most rewarding-electricity of a Broadway show.

There are nonstop Fosse trademarks from the opening instant through the extended curtain calls: plenty of struts, loads of black derbies and black leotards, splayed feet and hands behaving as if they were attached with charged rubber bands to the dancers' bodies, anti-ballet poses interspersed with intensely balletic ones, thrusting pelvises, wild imagination and humor and darkness and the most basic fulfillment of all: Fosse bodies-muscular and masculine men; curvaceous, busty, wildly sexy, long-haired and sometimes ravishingly attractive women. And there's even one short-haired, red-topped dancer who bears an eerie resemblance to Gwen Verdon.

Intriguingly, the trademark Fosse moves work at their exuberant best in the context of the shows in which they appeared. And so, loosened from their context, the sometimes tedious transitions between numbers tremble dangerously on the edge of caricature.

But those are fleeting, momentarily dimming moments in an evening that's constantly gripping and forever exhilarating, marred only by one apparently systemic technical problem at the Gateway. For three quarters of this season, up to "Gypsy," the sound of the Gateway shows has been refreshingly in balance. But apparently, a sound technician who's been deafened, maybe by doing sound for too many rock shows, has returned. And if the sound for "Gypsy" was moderately annoying, that sound man's meddling with the controls in "Fosse" has become downright damaging. Singer Darren Lorenzo is a warmly winning performer, but he was so crashingly overmiked on opening night that audience members around me (and I myself) were forced to wince in pain. That's anti-entertainment.

That said, and minus this distraction, "Fosse" soars, from the eruptive, stage-filling calypso opening number through a whimsically physical "Bye Bye Blackbird" to a driving, battling duet by Ken Alan and Zane Booker of a percussive number from "Dancin'" the all dance show that Fosse staged in his lifetime. There's a dance originally created for Gwen Verdon, Lee Roy Reams and Buddy Vest for a 1968 Bob Hope television special, performed to a fare-thee-well by Ashley Fitzgerald, Zane Booker and Shane Stitely, and another refugee from "Dancin'" the "Crunchy Granola Suite" with music by Neil Diamond that brings the entire cast into turbulent, levitating presence.

Along with the pure dance creations, "Fosse" is spicily peppered with the master's creations for Broadway and film musicals. "Big Spender" from "Sweet Charity" is a chestnut that appears freshly minted, with all of the variety and imagination that he poured into this number intact. "Steam Heat," the whimsical whirlwind from "Pajama Game" that rocketed Fosse to the astonished attention of Broadway in 1954, is tossed off with not quite the touch that Carol Haney gave it, but close enough, by Ken Alan, James Kinney and Rosanne Colosi.

"Rich Man's Frug" from "Sweet Charity" gets its best re-creation-or possibly creation-in this critic's memory, led by a statuesque blonde (Kelly King, I think) and "Mein Herr" the addition to the film version of "Cabaret," has all the earthiness of a Hamburg bordello. If "Razzle Dazzle," from "Chicago," is thrown off a little too offhandedly by James Kinney, Katie Hyle and Christina West, the dance designed to shock the backers, "Take Off With Us" from the autobiographical film musical "All That Jazz" is socked out with all the acrobatic and erotic vigor it contained in the film. This being Patchogue, it's possible that the women dancers don't shed quite as much clothing as those in the film, but there's still enough exposure of writhing young flesh on stage to satisfy the most demanding connoisseur of this popular theatrical art.

And the fitting climax of an intoxicating evening is the showstopper from "Dancin'": an extended, full steam and complex "Sing Sing Sing." It was enough to get the opening night audience cheering and on its feet in a-for once-thoroughly justified standing ovation. My guess is that it will be repeated for the remainder of the run, which continues through September 4. The Gateway box office number is 286-1133.

Copyright, The Southampton Press


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