"Dancin'," produced by Tom Mallow in association with James Janek, directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse, choreography re-created by Gail Benedict, music arranged by Gordan Lowry Harrell, musical director Milton Selzer, costumes by Willa Kim, lighting by Jules Fisher, scenery by Peter Larkin.
With: Jo-Ann Baldo, Willaim H. Brown Jr., Jim Coti, Germaine Edwards, Karen E. Fraction, Ramon Galindo, Tonda Hannum, Nancy Hess, Stella Hiaff, Allison Renee Manson, Daniel May, Michael Lafferty, Barbara McKinley, Lynne Patrick, Roumel Reaux, Willie Rosario, Linda Smith, Thomas Tofel.
Feeling kind of low? Has the freight train of fate thundered through your soul? Have the rainclouds of life burst open and washed your bluebird of happiness into the sewer?
Well, just save your lunch money and go see "Dancin'," a popcorn of a musical that opened a two-week run last night at the National Theatre. It bills itself as a "plotless musical," with no message, just dancin' (why the "g" was considered too cumbersome I'll never know), and it delivers: harmless entertainment, occasional, well-performed silliness, attractive horseflesh, and not very good singing but wonderful dancing.
This is a road-company version of the show that has been playing on Broadway since 1978. It is Bob Fosse's creation -- if you didn't notice the show is billed as "Bob Fosse's Dancin'," directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse, the Fosse style is stamped all over the dances like Gucci on a pocketbook.
Fosse, not to put too fine a point on it, centers his dancers' movement in the pelvis. He has made the bump and grind a staple, as well as the straight-foot-heel-down-toe-up, the raised shoulder, and the head flop and turn. His dancers must be sinuous and athletic and learn to lead with the crotch. He also has a joyous sense of showmanship, of flamboyance, and sex. He is Mr. Show Biz.
"Dancin'" is sort of an Ice Capades of show dancing. It's a potpourri, a variety show, a sophisticated dance recital. It has production numbers and virtuoso solo turns and disco. The women dancers wear those high-cut leotards that reveal parts of the thigh that aren't even called thigh.
A show like this basically offers a menu of unrelated numbers, a few from column A and a few from column B, and the viewer will have favorites and least favorites. The dancer of the evening was Roumel Reaux, whose several solos were stunning. The worst number is a Las Vegas-type version of "Here You Come Again," the song Dolly Parton made famous, in which four women dancers in a sort of Charlie's Quadrangels chorus sing and then give us a paean to some awful man who evidently has the morals of a mink, with plenty of bottom twitching that passes, in this number, for dancing.
In nearly every other number the dancing is impeccable, flashy, energetic. In "I Wanna Be a Dancin' Man" a dozen dancers in white business suits and straw boaters syncopate with clapping hands and tapping feet. In "Fourteen Feet" seven dancers perform "an entire dance without moving the feet," with black-lit stripes and hands that glow in the dark.
"Benny's Number," with a Benny Goodman-style combo onstage, has echoes of the decadence Fosse captured so brilliantly in the movie "Cabaret." "America," the last big production number drags every dance step known to man out of the attic and, I regret to say, includes a finale called "Yankee Doodle Disco." Even good-natured silliness can go too far.
And, as wonderful as the dancing is, the singing gets no cigar. You can't always have potatoes with the steak, but the show does cary out for at least one person who can cry out. William H. Brown Jr. tries manfully with a number called "A Manic Depressive's Lament," but the notes barely got to the sixth row let alon to top balcony.