I keep waiting for the choreography of Bob Fosse to age. After all, the man began his career at the dawn of television and was connected to signature Broadway hits from the 1950s to the 1980s. But he died in 1987 -- an epoch ago, in popular culture. Yet his work looked brighter and smarter than ever in the traveling revue Fosse, a superb dance retrospective spanning his career. "Fossified" might therefore be the opposite of "ossified" -- signifying a troupe of muscularly sensual performers who use hips and hands as much as they do teeth and gams. And "troupe" is essential, for Fosse designed more for ensembles than for solo star turns. Or maybe it just seems that way because the group work is so kinetically satisfying, from the tartish "woiking goils" who line up to sneer "Hey Big Spender" (from Sweet Charity, 1966) to the spectacular finale, Benny Goodman's "Sing, Sing, Sing."
Though the choreography is all Fosse, the show was put together by Richard Maltby Jr. (Ain't Misbehavin'), Chet Walker and Fosse muse/companion Ann Reinking. It says a great deal about the depth of the man's genius and humanity that his friends and family would showcase long-unseen fragments from the Colgate Comedy Hour and other perishable TV fare, as well as the more famous selections from his Broadway and film career (which ran from 1954's Pajama Game through his multi-Oscar direction of the '70s' Cabaret and Dancin'), and reassemble them into a kaleidoscope of color, movement and style.
There's some vocalizing, mostly by Reva Rice, who's more radio-ready than a Broadway belter, but for the most part the dancers move to instrumental numbers, and when there is choral singing, it's outstandingly well synchronized. "Bye Bye Blackbird" is transformed from a children's lullaby into a finger-snapping strut. This humorously brisk number dates back to -- can it be? -- 1972, and Fosse's Emmy Award-winning Liza with a Z TV special. But even "Steam Heat" from Pajama Game, the first full Broadway show choreographed by Fosse (1954), felt fresh, coy and sexy, with the trio of Linda Bowen, Ken Alan and Matt Loehr making the most of hissed words, black suits, derbies and bright-white socks.
Scene changes were accompanied by short quotes from Fosse productions both notorious and obscure; they sometimes suffered from the lack of context, but Fosse's strangest moments were also some of the most satisfying, such as "Cool Hand Luke," a pas de trois originally designed for Verdon, with music by Lalo Schifrin, that was originally performed on a Bob Hope special, circa 1968. Upstage, a blazing-orange scrim descends and "tears" off, revealing a Western-sunset skyline, while the dancers move under a shadowy half-light. They seemed less connected to one another than preoccupied with the intensity of their dance, which had brisk, even brusque, aspects. It was mesmerizing stuff, and even more so when you meditate on what was happening back then: Vietnam dividing the country, Hair in rehearsal -- and here was Fosse, the genius/madman of Broadway, getting a chance at an audience of millions, for a few minutes at least. And instead of razzle-dazzle, we got metal-hard movement and solemn faces -- Fosse at his most classically contrary and darkly humorous.