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A couple of years ago, I got an email from Whatsonstage.com about the new touring production of Fosse. I decided that was something I wanted to go to, so I bought three tickets from my Ebay profits and a few weeks later, myself, hubby and my eleven year old daughter went to the Bristol Hippodrome to watch it.
Musicals are one thing I love. My collection of DVDs, videos and CDs includes a few of Bob Fosse's creations - Chicago, Cabaret, All That Jazz and The Pajama Game. An added attraction was that this particular production stars Bonnie Langford. I know some people dislike her, but I have admired her for years, from the early lisping sweetness as Violet Elizabeth Bott in Just William through her many dance shows, theatrical appearances and her role as a Doctor Who companion.
I met her in 1980, when she was in a show at the Theatre Royal, Lincoln and my mother interviewed her. I found Bonnie to be lovely and have followed her career for years now, occasionally writing or emailing her and always receiving replies.
So there we were, one evening in mid-June, in the front row of the stalls - my favourite place for watching a show.
Fosse is a celebration of Bob Fosse's work. His style of dance is an unusual one and very recognisable. Every part of the body is used from toes straightening to fingers waggling, pelvises thrusting and shoulders shrugging. It is a kind of jerky style, but extremely graceful and great to watch.
The costumes often include hats as props and there are many black items worn. The outfits range from suits and dresses right down to skimpy underwear. It really is a distinctive show and not like anything else you are likely to see.
The cast of the production I saw were all American with Bonnie being the only British performer. Fosse tends to consist of a regular team of extremely talented dancers and singers - but who are relatively unknown - fronted by a name of that country. So it is likely that future productions of Fosse will star other big names of the theatre.
Instead of there being a story to follow, the show consists of 26 song and dance routines. These are not isolated pieces though, as the cast move in and out of each routine by way of the art of dance. This is also used as a distraction while the sets are changed and chairs or benches brought onto the stage. It is very cleverly done and provides non-stop action for the audience.
The songs include...
From Big Deal (1986) - Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries, Dancin' Dan
From The Little Prince (1974) - Fosse's World
From Liza With A Z (1972) - Bye Bye Blackbird, I Gotcha
From Dancin' (1978) - From The Edge, Percussion 4, Crunchy Granola Suite, Mr. Bojangles, Benny Goodman's Sing Sing Sing
From Sweet Charity (1966) - Big Spender, Rich Man's Frug
From The Pajama Game (1954) - Steam Heat
From Cabaret (1972) - Mein Herr
From All That Jazz (1979) - Take Off With Us
From Chicago (1975) - Razzle Dazzle
There are nice changes in pace over the show. The performance I saw opened with Bonnie singing Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries, which is a good way to begin, as it is a very good song and she has a wonderful voice, but it's quite a calm, simple beginning. This is reprised near the end of the second half too, slowing down the tempo in preparation for the dramatic, fast-paced finale - Benny Goodman's Sing Sing Sing. This action-packed number is extremely catchy and gives you a visual feast of dancing excellence, ensuring all the audience leave on a high.
The performance seemed to go very quickly, which is always a good sign. I only found one routine rather dull and overlong, but loved the others. My daughter agreed with me and had a great time too, but my husband was bored quite a lot of the time. Although he enjoyed the skimpy costumes (!), this is a very dance-centric show and if you are only a casual fan of musicals or prefer ones with a story, Fosse is not really the production for you.
I would have preferred more numbers from Cabaret and Chicago, as these are two of my favourite musicals. I also found the choice of Razzle Dazzle a bit disappointing, as I found Trevor Illingworth a bit weak vocally and he didn't have the charm that Richard Gere displayed in the film. I would have loved to have seen Bonnie performing something as Velma or Roxie too.
My favourite routine was Mein Herr from Cabaret - the famous sequence from the film where Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) dances on the chairs in the club. This was brilliantly re-created with Bonnie making such a great Sally Bowles, that I was left hoping I would be able to see her in that role sometime soon. Her portrayal was perfect. She is such a versatile performer and I think some people regard her as a dancer rather than a singer, but Fosse proved she is equally talented in both areas. Mein Herr was certainly the highlight of the show for me.
I was slightly surprised by Big Spender. I haven't seen Sweet Charity yet (even though Bonnie toured with it a few years ago) and my ideal rendition of that brilliant song is Shirley Bassey's. The Fosse version is quite different and the context is made obvious on the stage, as the gaudy make-up and clothes make it clear which kind of a 'good time' they are inviting you to have. I enjoyed it though, despite having been expecting something else.
Besides Bonnie Langford, there were a couple of the cast who stood out from the rest. Herman Payne was noticeable for his height, towering over the others and making the best use of those long legs. But the star besides Bonnie was Darren Lorenzo. More of a singer than a dancer, he took the starring role in several numbers including the memorable Dancin' Dan and the moving Mr. Bojangles. He has a great voice and his personality radiated from the stage and charmed everyone.
There were no weak links in the dancers, as far as I could see. I did ballet, tap, stage and gymnastics for years, so I do love watching it and particularly appreciate the athletic jumps and leaps the men do.
Overall, the production of Fosse is stunning, but I wouldn't recommend it to everyone. If you are a more casual fan of musicals or have no interest in Bob Fosse's work, you would be better off spending your money on something more traditional like Fame or Grease.
But if you love Cabaret, Chicago and more of Fosse's work and especially if you are a fan of Bonnie Langford (or whoever is headlining it), you will really enjoy this production. I was initially disappointed to see Bonnie was only in about seven of the routines, but after a couple of numbers, I was hooked and became carried away with it all, regardless of whether Bonnie was included or not (although I still preferred it when she was!).
To round off a great night's entertainment, we waited at the stage door afterwards and met Bonnie. It was great to discover she is still as was warm and friendly as she was in 1980. She made time to talk to everyone waiting and sign autographs. She was also pleased to find my daughter was smaller than her, though only just! We got the programme signed, hubby got his Dr. Who CD signed and we walked away very happy.
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Fosse is the latest touring musical to hit Manchester's Opera House, and learning of this fact a few months ago, we booked tickets to see it. My visit was a week ago, but despite my usual efficiency in finishing off reviews, this is only being put up now because it's taken me this long to work out what I really thought of the show. Bob Fosse was an American choreographer who died in 1987, and this show is a tribute to his work. It features 24 numbers from his greatest hits including Cabaret, Sweet Charity and Dancin', most of which are include singing. What I wasn't that keen on, though, was the way they had "transition" periods in between where a few of the cast would perform a modern, interpretative dance, while others were obviously backstage getting changed or catching their breath. I appreciate that you sometimes need linking pieces, but these seemed rather stuck in any where rather than neatly inserted at an appropriate place in the program. The songs they did do included well-known ones such as "Mein Herr" and "Razzle Dazzle", along with the less famous "Cool Hand Luke" and "Bye Bye Blackbird". For some random reason they also did one of the songs ("Life is just a bowl full of cherries") twice - once at the start of the first act and then later towards the end of the second. It might just be me, but live theatre is not somewhere I normally expect to be shown repeated work The dancers were good but not outstanding - several got out of time several times, which you don't really expect from a show with such a focus on dancing, and one this far into a tour. I'd quite liked to have seen the state of their opening night, in an evil sort of way. Equally, the singers were in tune and projected well, but none really shone. None of this would have mattered if the show had had a good storyline to go with it, but it didn't - it was set up in a revue style,
with no clear linkage from one number to the next, and because all you had left to focus on were the dancing and singing abilities, the mistakes were more obvious. The choreography was good, but the best written scripts don't automatically make for well acted plays, and the same is true for dancing. I found it seemed to be a half-hearted sort of show. For example, for most of the way through they stuck to their guns with regards to scenery or lack thereof, but in a couple of numbers they wheeled out big pieces of set with seemed quite pointless given the absence of similar pieces in all other routines. Also, in all but one of the numbers their costumes were nothing but black. And, in a classy, minimalist kinda way, that was nice. But for some reason during "Big Spender" the girls came out in colourful dresses. Finally, the backdrops were perhaps a little too eye catching - they sparkled and swirled in an enticing way, but I couldn't help feeling they got more attention than the dancers at times. I don't suppose it's all that important, but it seemed rather odd to me. Calling Fosse a musical seems wrong because it's like no other musical I've ever seen, so perhaps the term "Dancical" should be coined for this production. I'm glad I've seen it if only to know not to ever want to again, but if you're after a general, non-specialist night out, I think you'd be disappointed. Even those who enjoy dance in general, as I do, might not think it worth the money. But, if you're more of a dance buff than me though, visit www.fossethemusical.com for tour dates, cast bios and so on.