Review: ‘Bob Fosse’s Dancin’’ on Broadway is a fascinating if conflicted ‘70s throwback

Tribune Content Agency

NEW YORK — Dancers are athletes; it’s just that America doesn’t always see.

They’ve got superhuman bodies and indomitable spirits, their careers are short, they’re vulnerable to injury, they’re often vessels for the game plans of others and, on a given night, they can fulfill expectations or blow you away as surely as a football running back shaking off defenders.

That truth surely dances around your head at “Bob Fosse’s Dancin’,” the fascinating if deeply conflicted new Broadway revival of the hit 1978 revue “Dancin’.” It’s now more tightly branded around its famous, or infamous, choreographer and restaged at the Music Box Theatre by director Wayne Cilento, an original cast member working with a knockout big band sound, a wildly zesty costume design from Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung, and 22 ensemble company members with equal billing and, I imagine, no living recollection of 1978.

For Broadway dancers, “Dancin’” is a revered part of their collective history, which must put all kinds of pressure on this cast. Here was a show that jettisoned both book and score and the need for the notoriously irascible and control-minded Fosse to joust with either composer or writer. Instead, he used choreography as his entire narrative, pulling from an eclectic range of preexisting music — everything from Johann Sebastian Bach to George M. Cohan to Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller — all performed live and loud and arranged by theme, not form or style.

Sure, dancers also had been front and center in “A Chorus Line,” but they were also singing and talking up a storm, as if talking to shrinks eight times a week. “Dancin’” put actual dancing — the athletic artistry, not the traumas and insecurities endemic to the profession — in that spotlight. Fosse’s 1970s dancers rehearsed for three months and it all took a massive toll on their bodies; in return, they got a long run, a better salary than dancers had ever received before and they were part of a seminal (and successful) push for a whole new level of pop-cultural legitimacy.

We cannot, of course, go back to 1978. And like many revivals of entertainments from that time, “Dancin’” (now two acts, not three) lands in a kind of uneasy middle ground between past and present, old ways and new. With its Americana, gangsters and snatches of hooky pop songs, its retro aesthetic now feels much like an NBC or BBC variety special from the era, the kind of epic pastiche that disappeared with premium cable.

Dancing is inextricably linked with Midtown Manhattan, and the New York of “Bob Fosse’s Dancin’” still is one of prostitution and and peep shops, hoodlums and purveyors of sleaze vying for attention. Robert Brill’s set uses LED and video technology that was a figment of dreams in 1978, rendering the show at a previously impossible level of definition, but the visual iconography throws back nonetheless. And that’s even though “Dancin’” came before the end of Fosse’s career and also has to compete with the later “Fosse,” often regarded as the more definitive review, even if that was a valediction and “Dancin’” was, both then and now, a daring risk.

There’s another issue at play, too. Fosse was all about unity, conformity and the deliverance of his vision. These days, self-actualization and self-definition are very much in, and there are times in this show (including an awkward ending) when Fosse’s quotes feel ill-at-ease in the mouth of a dancer who may or may not feel the same way.

That’s the defining (and, some will likely say, debilitating) tension of the night: The legacy of perhaps America’s most famous, distinctive and deceased choreographer, as channeled through Cilento, one of the keepers of the flame, and the vitality of young dancers whose personal truths don’t have so much to do with seducing big spenders.

For longtime Fosse fans, though, that raging struggle might just be the most interesting thing of all. It was for me, although I suspect the show also will please tourists looking for, well, the kind of sexy, glamorous, sensual Broadway show that mostly has disappeared despite the international audience demand.

Either way, it’s truly something to watch phenomenal artists like Peter John Chursin, the beauty of whose dancing just blew me away; of Matti Love, a dancer who understands both vulnerability and power; of Kolton Krause, who holds down center stage; and of Jôvan Dansberry, a beautiful and graceful human whom you watch realizing he had so many choices in life and chose, instead, this road to travel.

Not everyone is at that level but I could also be typing many more names to admire. Frankly, the entire show put me weirdly in the mind of ChatGPT. Here is something it surely can never touch, thank the memories of 1978, thank God, thank Fosse.


“Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ ” is on Broadway at the Music Box Theatre, 239 W. 45th Street, New York;


Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.