Los Angeles Times

Fosse with a modern groove

Old Globe revives ‘Dancin’,’ but revue is tighter, lets members of troupe really shine.

- By Ashley Lee

When Bob Fosse’s “Dancin’ ” opened on Broadway in 1978, it began with a warning: This show is not a traditiona­l stage musical, with characters that fall in love, conquer villains or leave orphanages.

Its 16 principal performers — originally including Wayne Cilento, who later choreograp­hed “The Who’s Tommy” and “Wicked” — then launched into a marathon of rigorous musical numbers, showcasing a notably wide range of dance and music styles.

“It was very physically challengin­g, and the dancing was really intense,” recalls Cilento, who was 29 at the time and nabbed his first Tony nomination for the role. “It was definitely the worst thing I’ve ever done, but also the most rewarding.”

“Dancin’ ” played for four years and brought Fosse his seventh Tony Award for his choreograp­hy. But it has rarely since been revived — on Broadway or elsewhere — partly due to its dangerous degree of difficulty.

That is, until now: A Broadway-bound revival of the revue is playing at San Diego’s Old Globe through May 29, with Cilento himself at the helm.

“It’s an entertaini­ng musical that’s a celebratio­n of life, of dance and of dancers,” says Nicole Fosse, who has been pushing a revival of her father’s passion project since 2005. “I wanted to make sure that the right director would stay true to all of the intentions of the original show and everything that Bob Fosse was always about.”

Bringing back “Dancin’ ” raises the question of whether such a physically ambitious show can be restaged safely.

“There’s enough dancing in it for four regular musicals; it’s like playing a pro football game eight times a week,” Fosse told The Times in 1982. “No matter how carefully I warn the dancers to warm up, a lot of injuries happen — particular­ly as the run wears on.”

The original “Dancin’ ” had up to six understudi­es, each of whom needed to rehearse for a month before executing the dozens of jazz, ballet, tap and contempora­ry routines. Between performers’ sprained ankles, sore knees and requests for time to rest, some shows went on with as many as seven people missing; others had actors performing what they could through the pain.

“People would call in and say, ‘I’ll do my three spots and sing that, but I can’t be in the big production numbers,’ and stage management would say, ‘Come, do what you can do, and then we’ll put the swings in with the stuff that you can’t do,” says Cilento. “Sometimes I was pissed because I couldn’t do that, since I was in almost every number. I was like a racehorse, running around crazy.”

Now 72, Cilento has made changes to “Dancin’ ” to help ensure that the revue is both entertaini­ng for 21st century audiences and sustainabl­e for a new generation of performers. Presented amid projection set designs and industrial scaffoldin­g — the latter as an “All That Jazz” reference to salute Fosse’s film career — the production has been trimmed from three acts to two (now rid of historical­ly controvers­ial sequences like “Dream Barre” and “Joint Endeavors”).

No single performer is assigned the same volume of routines Cilento once had. “We evenly distribute­d the show so there’s less injuries,” he says. “Also, I wanted every dancer to have spots in the show that they’re recognizab­le and featured to their best ability. We’re really putting them in a situation where they’ll be able to shine.”

Despite that, the new “Dancin’ ” — including a ballet that pulls moves from Fosse’s short-lived musical “Big Deal” — is still a behemoth for the dancers, cast from among 700 hopefuls and doing double shows up to three days a week.

“All of us are onstage basically the whole time, and you don’t stop until the show stops,” says Karli Dinardo, 28. “Your 30-second quick change is just as choreograp­hed as anything onstage. Even intermissi­on is timed out within an inch of its life.”

The production provides physical and massage therapists for the cast of 16, plus the four understudi­es — all of whom fill their time off with strength regimens and regenerati­ve activities such as high-intensity workouts, acupunctur­e, meditation and salt baths.

“We’re all sore and tired and excited,” says Manuel Herrera, 38. “But we understand that this is a huge undertakin­g and that this choreograp­hy takes technique and stamina to do it well, from beginning to end. So you have to do the outside work of taking care of yourself in order to be able to do your job and be in this show.”

Yet the most helpful resource has been Cilento himself. Dinardo and Herrera say that the revival’s director-choreograp­her has been generous with the “nuggets of wisdom” he received from Fosse firsthand and that he brings an empathy from experienci­ng himself the physical and mental toll “Dancin’ ” can have on its performers.

It’s a foundation­al part of Cilento’s approach to the production. “I constantly check in with them, sit them down and tell them they’re enough,” he says of his cast members. “I don’t want them to feel like every hand gesture has to be this way or that way. I don’t want to strip them of their individual­ity.

“I taught them the combinatio­n, and I gave them the freedom to bring themselves to his work. I want them to perform Bob’s choreograp­hy, but to do it the way they would do it. I think that then brings his work up to another level.”

 ?? Slaven Vlasic Getty Images ?? WAYNE CILENTO, above, helms the revival of “Dancin’,” featuring Jovan Dansberry, who’s busting a move at left.
Slaven Vlasic Getty Images WAYNE CILENTO, above, helms the revival of “Dancin’,” featuring Jovan Dansberry, who’s busting a move at left.
 ?? Julieta Cervantes ??
Julieta Cervantes

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