Review: 'Fosse' razzle dazzles Lied Center audience

Monday, November 1, 2004

A sold-out Lied Center audience welcomed the talented and energetic cast of "Fosse," and two acts of nonstop, high-voltage dancing and singing kept their attention riveted on the stage for more than two hours Saturday night.

If you like music and dance, you'd have to like "Fosse," directed by Ann Reinking and performed by one dozen each of male and female dancers. The production included 25 numbers lifted from such well-known shows as "Sweet Charity," "The Pajama Game," "Damn Yankees," "Cabaret," "Chicago" and others. Gwen Verdon, Bob Fosse's onetime leading lady and later wife, served as the show's artistic adviser.

From beginning to end, the show provided the quality named in a second-act number: "Razzle Dazzle." Backed by an orchestra of six that sounded like 60, the troupe threw themselves into one spirited routine after another, all bearing the Fosse hallmarks of stylized and precisely synchronized movements of hand and arm, shoulder and hip, head and neck -- and feet. Moving swiftly and seamlessly from large ensemble dances to trios to solos, the company danced without letup and with apparently limitless energy.

Fosse's choreography, re-created for this show by Chet Walker, showed an amazing range of movement, from deliberately stiff, robot-like walk sequences to routines so fluid the dancers seemed boneless. The audience seemed most enthusiastic for the big, frenzied production numbers; but quieter, slower pieces were pleasingly fluid and graceful, and gave the performers time to catch their breath. For example, during one transition piece, a trio of dancers briefly performed a slow wing-beat that conveyed flying so convincingly that one expected them to lift into the air. And, though the audience came to see dancing, they also were treated to memorable vocal interludes as well, from the women's brassy chorus in "Big Spender" to a spot of fine scat singing in "Dancing in the Dark."

The stage was framed by a proscenium arch, outlined in colored lights, and as the curtain went up, two additional lighted arches appeared at left and right, sending the vivid message: This is show business! The smaller arches also served as lighting towers, and at times swung back to form entrances from the wings. Lighting was dramatic throughout the production, with frequent use of moving overhead spots, visible against a slight haze. Colors set the tone for numbers. For example, deep crimson lighting introduced "Big Spender," and blue was used as the show's bluest number, "Take Off With Us," began. The latter number, from "All That Jazz," featured three couples in bikinis and briefs -- male/male, female/female and male/female -- in unmistakable simulated sex.

Costumes varied throughout the evening: baseball uniforms for "Shoeless Joe," barely-there teddies for "Mein Herr." But the recurring standby was the trademark Fosse black suit plus the indispensable hat -- who but Fosse could make so much stage magic by doffing, donning, tossing and catching a hat? The final number, a brilliant and extended production of Benny Goodman's "Sing Sing Sing," costumed the men in sparkling suits, near-zoot but not quite; their loose drape emphasized the fluid movements of the dancers.

The hard-working orchestra, its members recognized with solos in the Goodman finale, provided nonstop musical settings for each dance number, with the brass especially effective in the up-tempo pieces. Percussion is close to the heart of this show -- what would Fosse be without drum accents for the dancers' emphatic steps? -- and Tom Bradford's percussion did its job there.

After the final applause had died down, the audience rose slowly, almost surprised that the evening had passed so quickly, and almost regretful that it was over.