Newest Review: ... - fronted by a name of that country. So it is likely that future productions of Fosse will star other big names of the theatre. Ins... more
A Bit of Sweet Jazz, Mein Herr?
Member Name: karenuk
Advantages: Exciting, great dancing, Bonnie, talented cast
Disadvantages: A bit 'heavy' for casual fans
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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Summary: An interesting musical, something a bit different.
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