Can a new generation safely stage Bob Fosse’s toughest show?
When Bob Fosse’s “Dancin'” opened on Broadway in 1978, it began with a warning: This show is not a traditional musical, with characters falling in love, winning over villains, or leaving orphanages.
Its 16 lead performers – which originally included Wayne Cilento, who later choreographed “The Who’s Tommy” and “Wicked” – then embarked on a marathon of rigorous musical numbers, showcasing a particularly wide range of dance styles and of music.
“It was very physically demanding and the dancing was really intense,” recalls Cilento, who was 29 at the time and earned his first Tony nomination for the role. “It was definitely the worst thing I’ve ever done, but also the most rewarding.”
“Dancin'” performed for four years and earned Fosse his seventh Tony Award for choreography. But it has rarely been revived since – on Broadway or elsewhere – in part because of its dangerous degree of difficulty. That is, so far: A Broadway-bound revival of the revue is playing at the Old Globe in San Diego through May 29, with Cilento himself at the helm.
“It’s an entertaining musical that celebrates life, dance and dancers,” explains Nicole Fosse, who since 2005 has been pushing a project to revive her father’s passion. “I wanted to make sure that the right director would stay true to all the intentions of the original series and everything that Bob Fosse has always talked about.
Bringing back “Dancin'” begs the question of whether such a physically ambitious show can be safely re-enacted. “There’s enough dancing for four regular musicals; it’s like playing a professional football game eight times a week,” Fosse told The Times in 1982. “No matter how carefully I warn dancers to warm up, many injuries do happen, especially to as the race continues.”
The original “Dancin” employed up to six stunt doubles, each of whom had to rehearse for a month before performing the dozens of jazz, ballet, tap and contemporary dance routines. Between sprained ankles, sore knees and requests for rest time, some shows have gone on with up to seven people missing; others had actors playing what they could through the pain.
“People were calling and saying, ‘I’m going to do my three spots and sing this, but I can’t be in the big production numbers,’ and stage management was like, ‘Come do what you can do and then “I’ll put the swings with what you can’t do,” Cilento says. I was like a racehorse, running around.
Now 72, Cilento has made changes to “Dancin'” to help ensure the revue is both entertaining for 21st century audiences and enduring for a new generation of artists. Presented amidst projection sets and industrial scaffolding – the latter being a reference to “All That Jazz” to salute Fosse’s film career – the production was cut from three acts to two (now stripped of historically controversial sequences like ” Dream Barre” and “Joint efforts”).
No performer is given the same volume of routines that Cilento once had. “We distributed the show fairly so that there were fewer injuries,” he says. “Also, I wanted every dancer to have spots in the show that they were recognizable and presented to the best of their abilities. We really put them in a position where they can shine.
Yet the new ‘Dancin” – which features a ballet that draws moves from Fosse’s short-lived musical ‘Big Deal’ – is still a monster for the dancers on stage, chosen from 700 hopefuls and doing double shows up to three days a week.
“We’re all on stage pretty much all the time, and you don’t stop until the show stops,” says performer Karli Dinardo, 28. “Your quick 30-second change is just as choreographed as anything on stage. Even the intermission is timed to within an inch of its lifespan.
The production provides physical therapists and massage therapists for the cast of 16, as well as the four stunt doubles – all of whom fill their free time with strength regimens and regenerative activities like high-intensity workouts, acupuncture, meditation and massages. salt baths.
“We are all sore, tired and excited,” says interpreter Manuel Herrera, 38. “But we understand that it’s a huge undertaking, and that this choreography takes technique and stamina to do it well, from start to finish. So you have to do the outside work of taking care of yourself in order to to be able to do your job and be on this show.
Yet the most useful resource has been Cilento itself. Dinardo and Herrera tell The Times that the revival director-choreographer has been generous with the “nuggets of wisdom” he received from Fosse first-hand, and brings empathy to himself by experiencing the physical and mental toll that ” Dancin'” can have on its performers.
This is a fundamental part of Cilento’s approach to production. “I constantly check in with them, sit them down, and tell them they’ve had enough,” he says of his casting. “I don’t want them to feel like every hand gesture has to be like this or like that, I don’t want to strip them of their individuality.”
“I taught them the combination, and I gave them the freedom to devote themselves to their work,” he continues. “I want them to perform Bob’s choreography, but do it the way they would. I think it takes his work to another level.
Or: The Old Globe, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park, San Diego
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday to Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday to Friday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday. Ends May 29
Tickets: From $52
Information: (619) 234-5623 or theoldglobe.org
Operating time: 2 hours 20 minutes (including an intermission)
COVID protocol: Masks are highly recommended. (Check website for changes.)