Beautiful scenery and lighting. Fantastic, attention holding dancing. A show that is so fantastic, you can hardly believe you spent any time in the theatre at all. These are all of the things the show “Fosse”, currently playing in Austin… is not. Granted, there is an age factor to consider here- I’m much too young to remember most of the songs presented in this musical review of Bob Fosse’s standard-breaking choreography, but even so, the two older adults I was with were left perplexed as well.
The show started out well enough. Reva Rice, the main female singer, was quite extraordinary both vocally and physically. But with the first dance number, I could already tell I had settled in for a potentially long night. If I was more familiar with Fosse’s work, I might have seen some signature Fosse moves recreated for me by choreographer Chet Walker, with some interesting modern dance symbolism thrown in. Might being the operative word. As it was, all I could see was a tangled web of trite modern dance elements and shoddy symbolism thrown together with some classic jazz dance moves in hideously long numbers that taxed even the patience of the Fosse fan sitting next to me. There was no set to speak of- just two cold arches with lights lining them that moved occasionally. The costumes were primarily in a wide color range of black, and the lights, while not terrible, were not terribly impressive either. If this had been a work of completely modern dance, done to show off some new, bizarre style, I think I could have handled it, but it was more like they were taking an old style of jazz and trying to “spruce it up” a bit, an attempt that failed horribly.
Another main problem I saw with the show was a lack of a plot, or any type of connection between numbers. Some of the transitions between pieces were interesting, but there was really no logical progression of numbers. There was no plot, of course, but since this was really more of a review than anything else, that wasn’t really all that surprising. But what astonished me was that there was no common thread running throughout the show. The pieces weren’t arranged in chronological order, popularity order, or style order. Pieces from the same shows weren’t together, and even music and dances of the same basic types weren’t found together. It looked like someone took all of the dance numbers, mixed them in a hat and drew ones out. Granted, the opening song and the semi- finale song were the same- but there was no circular feeling to the show. The finale didn’t seem final, and all of the pieces seemed to drag on for an eternity and a half.
Which leads me to my next point- length. “Fosse” is a definite example of one of those shows where you can get too much of even a good thing. I think I might have been able to withstand some of the more bizarre numbers if they were a little bit shorter. “Fosse” took 3 minute songs and turned them into 15 minute long dance extravaganzas until you wanted to pull your hair out before listening to it anymore. The most humorous example of this was towards the end of the show in a number called “They’ll be Some Changes Made”. The song was quite good, as was the dancing, and I was beginning to think that this might be one number that I could go away saying I honestly liked… and then they went bizarre. They started doing this acapella version of the song, where they would just whisper the words “stop…” “Listen to me…” “Stop…” over and over again. The general opinion of my party after the show was something along the lines of “yes, listen to me… STOP”.
I think this need for the show to be over was based partly on the length of the numbers, but was also based on the variety of them… or lack thereof. All of the dance pieces seemed very much the same. There was too much flash and ta-da’s all in a row, with nothing between them to slow them down except for bizarre dance pieces like “There’ll be Some Changes Made”. With such a hyper beginning, and without slowing anything down during the piece, there was nowhere for the show to go. They started with the theatrical “volume” of the show set so high, that when they wanted to make it “louder” towards the end, they just exploded in a deafening display of lights, sound and dance that should have been triumphant, but instead was just headache causing.
On the positive side, there were a few moments of redeeming value. The costumes for the numbers “Big Spender” and “Who’s Sorry Now”, a sleazy whore-house number and a fan dance, respectively, were at least a change from the muted colors of the rest of the show, and the cuteness of both numbers made them stand out in a show that mostly just seemed very dark, despite not having any kind of a plot. The vocal talents of Ms. Rice were quite beautiful, she has incredible power in her voice, though if she has a nice range, they didn’t let her show it in her songs. Her voice was clear and clean, even during the dance numbers and she seemed very comfortable being on the stage. Another song featured a spectacular entrance, with dancers pulling down an orange silk drop then appearing to tear it as they ran offstage, revealing the mysteriously appearing dancers as they did so. Another number began with a dancer in a beautiful pose, lit from below by a bright blue light which threw eldritch shadows all across the theatre. I did enjoy the lights and their usage throughout the show- Andrew Bridge did a good job- a job made even better by the lack of such throughout the rest of the show, and there was a lovely theatrical rarity in the first act- a group of male dancers doing a dance that was very masculine, and still managed to be graceful and flowing.
I like modern dance, abstract concepts, and both cutting edge and older techniques, and pieces that combine these elements- such as “Riverdance” or “Chicago”- rank up among some of my favorites. “Fosse” however, did not combine these elements into anything even resembling a decent show, and I really wonder how such a piece could have won all the awards it has. The dancing in the early part of the show was very upbeat and flashy- it caught your attention at once. By the end of the show, however, all of that had degenerated into the realm of merely being extravagantly pointless.