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Disciples of Bob Fosse Handle His ‘Dancin’ ’ With Care


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In the 40 years since Dancin’ closed on Broadway, countless revivals and tours of Bob Fosse’s shows have come and gone, Sweet Charity, Damn Yankees and Pippin, among them. The 1996 revival of Chicago is still running. Dancin’, however, has always been MIA, despite its equally sexy shimmer.

Now, after years of false starts, Dancin’ is finally headed for its first Broadway revival. The show, which has been workshopping at San Diego’s Old Globe theater since March, recently opened there for a preview run that’s been extended through June 5. Producers are aiming for a fall or spring 2023 opening in New York.

The return of this all-singing, all-dancing 1978 revue rides a renewed wave of interest in the lone-wolf choreographer and filmmaker, whose life of excess was laid (mostly) bare in the 2019 FX limited series Fosse/Verdon.

Nominated for 17 Emmys and winner of four — including one for Michelle Williams as Fosse’s wife and muse, Gwen Verdon — the series explored the duo’s status as Broadway’s preeminent stylists.

From the mid-1950s through the ’80s the two collaborated on works for film, stage and television so unique, they created a genre all their own, referenced simply to this day as “Fosse.”

As their daughter, Nicole Fosse, points out, their work endures because the list of choreographers who “created anything so stylistically innovative it affected pop culture forever moving forward” is short.

Despite Dancin’s lucrative four-year run, two Tony Awards, the global tours it kicked off and Fosse’s omnipresence at the time, he didn’t believe this particular show would ever return to Broadway.

“Some of my best work we’ll never see again,” Fosse told The New York Times in March 1978. “There’s just no way of reconstructing it.”

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Bob Fosse (in black derby) with the original cast of ‘Dancin’ ‘

Courtesy of

Getting Dancin’ back on its feet has indeed been … a job. Numbers that would never pass today’s taste standards had to go. Others are so physically demanding, the original production relied on a full-time reserve bench eight players deep.

Dialogue from the era, though minimal, had to be refreshed. Casting meant finding at least 20 equals as Fosse — a nine-time Tony winner — insisted on billing all dancers as principals, a first for Broadway.

And with no professional recordings of the show, was there even anyone out there who still knew the whole thing? (An era in the not-too-distant past when maestros didn’t memorialize their work? Unimaginable now.)

Most importantly, the new cast and creatives didn’t want to build a museum piece.

“I wanted to walk that fine line,” says director Wayne Cilento, an alum of Dancin’s original cast and Tony-winning choreographer for The Who’s Tommy in 1993. “Dancin’ was sophisticated and amazing in its time, but I wanted to bring it up to another level — and keep it as something Bob would have done today.”

Cilento began with a hunt for video of the show; that mostly came up empty. “We got our hands on what we could,” he said of the few blurry recordings floating around. “Then we called Christine Colby Jacques, who had been a swing in the original Broadway cast and who knew every part.”

Though Jacques had her old three-ring binders filled with rehearsal notes from 44 years ago, she ultimately pieced Dancin’ back together by memory.

“I didn’t know I knew it,” she said of some of the steps that “just sort of flowed” once the music played. “When you do something for so long, it’s so ingrained, the music will tell you.”

Nicole Fosse —who formed the Verdon/Fosse Legacy in 2013 to preserve and protect her parents’ work — told The Hollywood Reporter that film or video might not have been the best guide anyway.

“My father was aware that in videotaping performances you lose the intention, you lose energy. It’s flat and you don’t see the patterns. But he loved dance on film because he could direct the audience’s eye,” she said of the man who won an Oscar in 1973 for directing Cabaret.

After Fosse’s death in September 1987 at age 60, the job of passing down his work became a calling for Verdon, who often worked closely with Ann Reinking, Fosse’s other significant muse and Dancin’s breakout star.

With an encyclopedic knowledge of her husband’s work, Verdon was thought to be able to re-create most any of his pieces, even those she never performed.

“That’s pretty close to true,” says Nicole. “She was the ballet master of the national touring company of Dancin’” — one of the untold times Fosse called on her for quality control.

With both long gone (Verdon died in October 2000 at 75) and with Reinking’s death in December 2020, the Fosse catalog now rests with the final generation to work with him.

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‘Dancin’ ‘ in rehearsals

Courtesy of Julieta Cervantes/

For his part, Cilento strived for reverence, with a kick. He remade a ballet called “Big City Mime,” which Fosse had cut during Dancin’s preview run in Boston. The piece now includes iconic sections from various films and stage shows of both Verdon and Fosse, including Kiss Me Kate, All That Jazz, Cabaret, Pippin and Liza With a “Z,” which were reconstructed by Dancin’ associate director and musical stager Corinne McFadden Herrera.

The evening’s centerpiece — an 18-minute opus set to Benny Goodman’s classic arrangement of “Sing, Sing, Sing” — remains just as it was in 1978, save for a twist or two.

Nicole thinks Dancin,’ with its broad mix of music (Neil Diamond, Dolly Parton, Jerry Jeff Walker and John Philip Sousa, among many others), will be “an eye-opener,” particularly for audiences who know mainly the “derbies, white gloves, all black and a sneer.”

“My father didn’t have one style,” she says. “There’s a look to his shows and his films. There was an approach. There’s a sensibility. But he had many styles.”

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