Dancin', directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse; production supervised by Gwen Verdon; choreography recreated by Kathryn Doby and Christopher Chadman; scenery by Peter Larkin; costumes by Wila Kim; lighting by Jules Fisher; orchestration by Ralph Burns.
With Hinton Battle, Russell Chambers, Andre de la Roche, Ron Dennis, Cecily Douglas, Anita Ehrler, Lois Englund, Penny Fedamy, Blck Goss, Keith Keen, Steve La Chance, Frea C. Mann III, Frank Mastrocola, Valerie-Jean Miller, Valarie Pettiford, Laurie Dawn Skinner and Allison Williams.
At the National Theatre through April 12.
There is something misleadingly modest about the title "Dancin." This is one time when a little typographical egotism on the creator's part would have served the cause of truth-in-packaging.
"Bob Fosse's Dancin'," it should have been called, for there is no other dancin' that is anything like it. And that, depending on one's perspective, is reason either to hoof it on down to the National Theatre, or to deftly sidestep that address between now and April 12.
Anyone familiar with Fosse's work -- and it is hard not to be after "Sweet Charity," "Pippin," the movie version of "Cabaret" and, last and most, the autobiographical "All That Jazz" -- can manage without outside counsel. Those who regard Fosse's style of choreography as original and invigorating will feel that way all over again if they go see "Dancin'." Those who regard it as cold, inhuman and vacuously frenetic -- count me in -- will find more fuel for their side of the argument, too.
"Dancin'" is an evening of Bob Fossee dance numbers, no moe and no less. An attractive, athletic and gifted company performs a series of unrelated dances to music ranging from Neil Diamond to Sigmund Romberg. They perform in an arresting assortment of costumes -- baggy, skimpy, formal, ragtag, black-and-white and red-white-and-blue. And they perform under some vivid, fast-changing lighting against backdrops that sometimes move around so much they seem to be dancing themselves.
The show has the virtue of getting better toward the end. "Fourteen Feet" ("For the first time in the history of the musical theater, an entire dance without moving the feet!") is a novelty item that clicks thanks to Fosse's ingenious idea of turning the lights off in mid-dance to reveal day-glow stick figures painted on the dancers' costumes. A subsequent piece of razzle-dazzle called "Benny's Number" offers hypnotizing ensemble work and a fine solo by a strong, willowy dancer named Anita Ehrler.
But Ehrler's work and several striking turns by Washington-bred Hinton Battle are exceptions to the depressing rule. Fosse's virtuosity is generally at the expense of the individual performers, who maintain chilly facial expressions while flailing their way through jagged sequences of unnatural postures.
Like other Fosse productions, "Dancin'" has its share of sexually suggestive movements, but why do the dancers seem to be at their least attractive when they are at their most erotic?
On the rare occasions when "Dancin'" has any decipherable subject matter, it, too, tends to be exploited rather than illuminated. From Jerry Jeff Walker's "Mr. Bojangles," for example, Fosse has fashioned a downright peculiar tribute to Bill Robinson that uses every motif, from slapstick to ballet, except tap dancing, Robinson's specialty. (This tribute begins, incidentally, with the recorded voice of Fosse himself, delivering a little introductory narration. The voice returns in the final act with some familiar quotations about America and liberty, presumably designed to lend a note of relevance to the whole enterprise.)
"Dancin'" is not quite all dancin'. It has a smidgen of singin' too, a few attempts at jokin' and even some smokin'. In one early number, several dancers puff cigarettes as they sweep across the stage. Even pack-a-day people ought to find that a trifle bizarre.