Review | Revival of Fosse’s 1978 dance revue is a waste

1. Bob Fosse’s DANCIN’ at The Music Box Theatre. Photo by Julieta Cervantes
Bob Fosse’s “Dancin'”
Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Don’t trust the title.  

The dance steps may have originally been created by Fosse, but “Bob Fosse’s “Dancin’,” a mangled, misguided, and utterly pointless attempt to revive and reinterpret Fosse’s 1978 dance revue “Dancin,’” is devoid of the director-choreographer’s inimitable style, allure, and precision.

“Dancin’,” which was a major hit in its day, essentially served as Fosse’s response to “A Chorus Line”: his own celebration of dancers and the art of dancing, but without plot, characters, or an original score. Just a diverse set of dance routines set to a diverse collection of music (Neil Diamond, patriotic anthems, jazz, classical).

Years ago, I interviewed an original cast member of “A Chorus Line,” who claimed that “A Chorus Line” does not work without its original cast. On the contrary, I think “A Chorus Line” holds up fairly well in professional revivals (in which Michael Bennett’s original staging is usually recreated). “Dancin’,” on the other hand, is purely a one-off product of its time and creator.

Wayne Cliento, an original cast member of both “A Chorus Line” and “Dancin’,” who went on to become the Tony-winning choreographer of musicals such as “Wicked” and “The Who’s Tommy,” serves as the director of “Bob Fosse’s Dancin’.”

Cliento has dutifully recreated Fosse’s original choreography while editing the set list (adding a ballet that pays homage to 1970s Times Square and a segment dedicated to  Fosse’s 1986 flop “Big Deal”), incorporating a giant video wall, expanding the color palette, updating the orchestrations, and altering the tone to make it feel more diverse and inclusive.

The choreography of “Dancin’” is not particularly memorable or special, with nothing that comes close to matching Fosse’s inspired and innovative routines in “The Pajama Game,” “Damn Yankees,” “Sweet Charity,” “Pippin,” and “Chicago.” One also assumes that “Dancin’” had a much stronger impact with Fosse himself at the helm.

By comparison, in 1999, another dance revue celebrating Fosse’s work, titled simply “Fosse,” played Broadway, which had the benefit of showcasing work from Fosse’s entire career, which meant that the best routines of “Dancin’” (including “I Wanna Be a Dancin’ Man,” “Mr. Bojangles,” and “Sing, Sing, Sing”) could be viewed alongside “Big Spender,” “Razzle Dazzle,” and “Steam Heat.”

Rather than attending “Dancin,’” I suggest checking out the commercially-released video recording of “Fosse” (which featured Ben Vereen and the late Ann Reinking) or any of the numerous clips of Fosse’s work on YouTube (such as Fosse and Gwen Verdon performing “Who’s Got the Pain?” together in the film version of “Damn Yankees”). Or, return to the long-running Broadway revival of “Chicago” which, although technically only staged in the style of Fosse by Reinking, provides a much stronger dose of Fosse than “Bob Fosse’s ‘Dancin’.”

“Dancin’” runs at the Music Box Theatre. 293 W. 45th St., dancinbway.com.