By Kenneth Jones
13 Jan 1999
The way preview crowds have been bringing down the house after watching "Steam Heat" in the new musical, Fosse, there would be no way of guessing that the Jan. 14 opening comes during a winter business slump.
Since previews began Dec. 26, 1998, Jane Lanier, Michael Paternostro and Alex Sanchez have been strutting to the classic Bob Fosse-choreographed "Steam Heat," from 1954's The Pajama Game, as if they were trying to melt the ice off the roof of the Broadhurst Theatre.
And their heat is being felt: Anticipation for Fosse, one of only a handful of new musicals opening in the 1998-99 season, is high; the previews were almost completely sold out by the time they began.
The Livent-produced show is considered "new" in the sense that it's a repackaging of routines, dance elements and full numbers devised by Fosse, the onetime dancer, stage director-choreographer and film director known for his slinky, hot, isolated muscle movements. The retrospective draws from previous Broadway shows (heavily from 1978's Dancin', another Fosse revue), films, nightclub acts and TV specials
Insiders say Fosse, with its 33-member company of singers and dancers, is selling well for a couple of reasons: The show is one of only three new Broadway musicals so far this season (joining Parade and Footloose, alongside the ballet Swan Lake). Also, the hit Chicago, which is staged "in the style of" Fosse, has primed theatregoers since 1996 for a more expansive look at the work of the late choreographer, who died in 1987.
RCA/Victor seems sure of Fosse: A one-disc cast album will be recorded Jan. 25 for release April 27, 1999. The songlist for the recording has not been announced.
Credited with co-conceiving Fosse are Richard Maltby Jr., Chet Walker and Ann Reinking. Fosse's widow and longtime collaborator, the legendary dancer Gwen Verdon, is "artistic advisor." The production is directed by Maltby, and co-choreographed by Walker and Reinking.
Walker, a former Broadway dancer in Pippin and Dancin', conceived the idea of a retrospective with Fosse as early as 1986. Reinking is a Fosse protégé who appeared in Dancin' and "All That Jazz" and recreated Fosse's work for the hit revival of Chicago, in which she also starred.
Maltby is a director and lyricist (Big, Closer Than Ever, Miss Saigon) who staged the popular Ain't Misbehavin', a revue of Fats Waller's work. Fosse, like Ain't, does not have a storyline.
The show includes recreations of famous dances from such Fosse choreographed musicals as Big Deal (his last show, in 1986), Chicago, Damn Yankees, Redhead, New Girl in Town, The Pajama Game, Pippin, Sweet Charity, Dancin', films "All That Jazz," "Kiss Me Kate" and "Cabaret," and the TV special, "Liza With a Z," and more.
Top-billed are Valarie Pettiford and Jane Lanier. Featured in the company are Scott Wise (Jerome Robbins' Broadway, State Fair ), Mary Ann Lamb (Chicago), Eugene Fleming, Desmond Richardson, Sergio Trujillo, Kim Morgan Greene, Dana Moore and Elizabeth Parkinson, among others.
Designing Fosse are Santo Loquasto (set and costumes), Andrew Bridge (lighting) and Jonathan Deans (sound). Loquasto's recent credits include Ragtime, Nine Armenians and Barrymore. Orchestrations are by Ralph Burns and Doug Besterman.
Loquasto's set uses twin prosceniums within the stage. The frames roll out from the wings to create new performance perspectives and dance spaces. Other times, the prosceniums roll back flat against the wings to allow the full depth of the stage to be used.
The production is in a three-act form, as it was when it played summer 1998 tryouts in Toronto, Boston and Los Angeles. The running time has been trimmed from nearly three hours to 2 hours and 25 minutes, according to a Livent spokesperson. In previews, "Alley Dance," a number in which a couple of young men try to top each other with dance gimmicks, was cut. The routine was from the film, "My Sister Eileen."
Fosse is the last full production to emerge from the financially troubled Livent Inc. Despite bankruptcy proceedings for the Canadian based producer, its existing Broadway properties Ragtime, Parade and Fosse continue on Broadway, and such projects as The Seussical and Sweet Smell of Success are still in development, according to Eleanor Goldhar, of Livent.
The Broadhurst was a lucky house for Fosse -- that's where his Dancin' ran 1,774 performances.
The Jan. 14 opening night songlist for Fosse will include:
"Life is Just a Bowl Cherries" (Big Deal)
"Fosse's World" (dance elements inspired by "The Little Prince," How to Succeed... and other shows or films)
"Bye Bye Blackbird" ("Liza With a Z")
"From the Edge" (Dancin')
"Percussion 4" (Dancin')
"Big Spender" (Sweet Charity)
"Crunchy Granola Suite"(Dancin')
"From This Moment On" (from the film, "Kiss Me, Kate")
"Walking the Cat" (dance elements from Redhead)
"I Wanna Be a Dancin' Man" (Dancin')
"Shoeless Joe From Hannibal Mo" (Damn Yankees)
"Transition" (dance elements from New Girl in Town)
"Dancing in the Dark" (inspired by "the dance team of Bob Fosse and Mary Ann Niles")
"I Love a Piano" (dance elements from Fosse appearances on TV variety shows)
"Steam Heat" (The Pajama Game)
"I Gotcha" (TV's "Liza With a Z")
"Rich Man's Frug: The Aloof, The Heavyweight, The Big Finish" (Sweet Charity)
"Cool Hand Luke" (choreographed for Gwen Verdon for 1968's "Bob Hope Special")
"Big Noise From Winnetka" (Dancin')
"Dancin' Dan/Me and My Shadows" (Big Deal)
"Nowadays" and "Hot Honey Rag" (Chicago)
"Manson Trio" (Pippin)
"Mein Herr" (from the film "Cabaret")
"Take Off With Us - Three Pas de Deux" (film, "All That Jazz")
"Razzle Dazzle" (Chicago)
"Who's Sorry Now?" ("All That Jazz")
"There'll Be Some Changes Made" ("All That Jazz")
"Mr. Bojangles" (Dancin')
"Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries" (Big Deal)
PART V: FINALE
"Sing, Sing, Sing" (Dancin')
For Fosse ticket information, call (212) 239-6200.