By Kenneth Jones
25 Aug 2001
Bye, bye, blackbird.
Fosse, the Tony Award-winning hit musical many thought would have "legs" beyond this summer, ends its Broadway run Aug. 25 at the Broadhurst Theatre.
The revue of dances and musical numbers created by legendary director-choreographer Bob Fosse (who died in 1987) has made its money back, according to a spokesman, and has logged 1,100 performances and 22 previews.
Co-directed and co-choreographed by Fosse protege Ann Reinking (the star of his Dancin'), the conceptual musical struts out of the Broadhurst to make way for a new adaptation of August Strindberg's Dance of Death, beginning performance Sept. 18. Reinking will make a curtain speech after the Aug. 25 evening performance of Fosse. "Closings are always bittersweet," Fosse dance captain Bill Burns told Playbill On-line Aug. 24. "You just wish the show could go on forever and ever and the choreography could go on forever and ever."
Burns, who has been with the show since its beginning in 1998 and still serves as a swing and cover performer, admitted, "My body is saying another thing." Burns maintains the dance quality of the show and "puts in" new performers.
The run of the show was both joyous and bittersweet: Fosse's famed wife, muse and star, Gwen Verdon, an active consultant on the project, died in the fall of 2000.
The loss of Verdon touched the company deeply, Burns said. "She was just the real deal, she was the best thing," he explained. "She would come in and work with us, just sweating buckets. She would partner with his. It was unbelievable what she could still do. Invaluable direction and imagery. She wanted it right but she was truly the mother of the company. She always had advice and remedies about aches and pains. She would help you out to make you feel better, and tell you how to use the aches and pain in your performances."
The hot musical, which offered glimpses of all phases of Fosse's career, from films, nightclubs, TV programs and Broadway, was developed by Livent, the now-defunct producing organization that also created Ragtime, Kiss of the Spider Woman and Hal Prince's Show Boat and Candide. The producers who inherited the costly-to-run Fosse chose to end the run while still on top rather than face a busy fall and begin losing revenue. A national tour is still dancing across the country.
Although Fosse's days on Broadway were numbered, the show was preserved on video Aug. 17-18 by PBS for a future "Great Performances" broadcast, expected in January or February 2002. Reinking joined Ben Vereen for those taped performances. Vereen, a Fosse vet from Pippin and "All That Jazz," began guesting in the ensemble show earlier this year and has led the troupe this summer.
Richard Maltby Jr. co-directed with Reinking. The show won the 1999 Best Musical Tony Award and has gone through some alterations since its 1999 opening: Originally, a leading-player actress (Valarie Pettiford) made book-end appearances, opening the show with "Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries" and performing numbers with the ensemble throughout. (Two actresses, Pettiford and Jane Lanier, were top-billed at the start of the run and took on the choicest numbers in the show.) Vereen, a box office draw, took over the leading-player role in January 2001, and with his casting the nature of some of the sequences changed (he became "Mr. Bojangles," for example). Bebe Neuwirth also guest-starred earlier this year.
The current company includes Eugene Fleming, Edward Liang, Dana Moore, Ken Alan, Mark Arvin, Ashley Bachner, Bill Burns, Lynne Calamia, J.P. Christiansen, Angel Creeks, Dylis Croman, Byron Easley, Parker Esse, Meg Gillentine, Francesca Harper, Suzanne Harrer, Anne Hawthorne, Scott Jovovich, James Kinney, Dede LaBarre, Susan Lamontagne, Deborah Leamy, Robin Lewis, Julio Monge, Sharon Moore, Jill Nicklaus, Rachelle Rak, Josh Rhodes, Christopher Windom.
Fosse tickets range $35-$85. For ticket information, call (212) 239-6200.
Fosse began previews Dec. 26, 1998, and opened Jan. 14, 1999. Anticipation for Fosse, one of only a handful of new musicals that opened in the 1998-99 season was so high the previews were almost completely sold out by the time they began.
The Livent-initiated show was 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 was in a three-act form when it opened, but during the run it was changed to a two-act show that included a brief "pause." The dance of "Shoeless Joe From Hannibal, MO," was cut late in the run.
"This show was much more malleable [than traditional muscials] and things changed, whether it was the stars coming into it or a dancer having a different take on [roles]," dance captain Burns said. "Ann and Gwen were open to that. We've had several premiere ballet dancers doing 'Percussion No. 4.' Their own personalities came through the choreography."
Credited with co-conceiving Fosse are Richard Maltby Jr., Chet Walker and Ann Reinking. Walker and Reinking co choreographed. Walker, a former Broadway dancer in Pippin and Dancin', conceived the idea of a retrospective with Fosse as early as 1986.
Reinking appeared in Dancin' and "All That Jazz" and recreated Fosse's style 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 in the original cast were Valarie Pettiford and Jane Lanier. Featured in the initial company were 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.
Designers are Santo Loquasto (set and costumes), Andrew Bridge (lighting) and Jonathan Deans (sound). 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 played summer tryouts in 1998 in Toronto, Boston and Los Angeles. The Broadhurst was a lucky house for Fosse — that's where his Dancin' ran 1,774 performances.
The Jan. 14, 1999, opening night songlist for Fosse included:
"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')
Vereen was the first star name to play in the Tony Award winning revue, which was conceived to be a group piece rather than a star vehicle. Critics and audiences observed that when Vereen first stepped into the show Jan. 26, 2001, he brought some focus and personality to a hit that has been ensemble oriented since it debuted on Broadway in January 1999.
Vereen, who won a Tony Award in director-choreographer Bob Fosse's Pippin and sang and danced in Fosse's film, "All That Jazz," recreated the "Glory" and "Manson Trio" numbers from Pippin in Fosse earlier this year, and recreates the work for the summer.
"I thought he was terribly funny in [Fosse's] 'Dancin' Dan,'" Reinking told Playbill On-Line after seeing Vereen play the rehearsals and then the show in January 2001. "Every time he did it, it would crack me up. He did bring his own wonderful element to the show, a real variety and another level. Another taste. Another feel. That's very important when you're doing an ensemble piece, that you give it a variety of levels so it doesn't get too homogenous."
Reinking continued, "There's just somethin' in him and that's what Bob recognized. Once a star... No matter what, there's something there, they give you something that's special. He's somebody who innately had something, a real gift. To see that gift nurtured by Bob and then by [Fosse artistic advisor] Gwen [Verdon], it's wonderful. It does give the show something. Showmanship!"
In Pippin, Vereen sang "Magic to Do," a kind of signature song for the actor-dancer, but the tune was not interpolated into Fosse for his tenure (though there was talk of it). Vereen recently played Billy Flynn (singing "Razzle Dazzle") in the Fosse-style revival of Chicago, in Las Vegas. The actor-dancer made headlines when he survived a near-fatal accident and went on to appear in Broadway's Jelly's Last Jam. He also appeared in Broadway's original Jesus Christ Superstar and Grind, and the Madison Square Garden production of A Christmas Carol. His official website is at www.BenVereen.com.
RCA/Victor released a one-disc cast album of the show in 1999.