Musical numbers: “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries,” “Fosse’s World,” “Bye Bye Blackbird,” “From the Edge,” “Percussion 4,” “Big Spender,” “Crunchy Granola Suite,” “Transition: Hooray forHollywood,” “From This Moment On,” “Alley Dance,” “Transition: Dance elements inspired by ‘Redhead,’ ” “I Wanna Be a Dancin’ Man,” “Shoeless Joe From Hannibal Mo,” “Transition: Dance elements inspired by ‘New Girl in Town,’ ” “Dancing in the Dark,” “I Love a Piano,” “Steam Heat,” “I Gotcha,” “Rich Man’s Frug,” “Transition: Silky Thoughts,” “Cool Hand Luke,” “Transition: Big Noise From Winnetka,” “Dancin’ Dan (Me and My Shadow),” “Nowadays,” “The Hot Honey Rag,” “Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar,” “Glory,” “Manson Trio,” “Mein Herr,” “Take Off With Us,” “Razzle Dazzle,” “Who’s Sorry Now,” “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” “Mr. Bojangles,” “Sing, Sing, Sing.”
In Ann Reinking’s opening collage for “Fosse: A Celebration in Song and Dance ,” the entire vocabulary of that great American choreographer is previewed in tantalizing bits, almost as tantalizing as the 37 lithe bodies that slither, arch, strut and grind their way through the sexiest show this side of the Follies.
A prologue including “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries,” “Bye Bye Blackbird” and “Fosse’s World” (inspired by signature Fosse styles from nine shows and staged by Reinking) sets the tone for an effervescent, nervy and slickly packaged production — a kind of “Riverdance” of jazz — in which famous numbers are staged side by side with earlier, lesser-known work, and newly created transitions become mini-presentations in their own right.
The prologue also spotlights the exquisite Valarie Pettiford, whose dancing and singing provide many of the show’s highlights, especially when she gets to solo in “Bye Bye Blackbird” and “Mein Herr.” Pettiford, whose musical theater background includes an award-winning turn as Julie in Livent’s “Show Boat,” merges Fosse’s complex demands for angular precision and simmering sensuality and delivers it with seeming effortlessness, a task that occasionally eludes some of the other dancers.
The “Fosse” company is a mix of modern dancers and musical theater performers , and occasionally, as in the solo “Percussion” danced by Desmond Richardson, a lengthy list of impressive credentials from several of America’s top modern dance companies is not enough to fill out the piece. Richardson simply doesn’t have the acting chops.
Conversely, there are performers who sacrifice precision for theatricality, which works in some of the stagier numbers but stands out in those designed to emphasize dance over characterization.
The show could also afford to lose a few numbers (29 is a bit too much of a good thing), although the overall quality is such that it’s easy to see why the directors have decided to let the show run nearly three hours.
They could begin by axing “Take Off With Us” (“All That Jazz”), which features three couples — female, male and mixed — and in its rather awkward sexual explicitness is at odds with the eroticism of the rest of the show. It doesn’t help that Mary Ann Lamb and Elizabeth Parkinson (who are both solid elsewhere) seem uncomfortable in their pas de deux as the lesbian couple.
In contrast, dated numbers like “The Rich Man’s Frug” (“Sweet Charity”) are performed with spot-on exactness, while Santo Loquasto’s sequined dresses, crushed velvet jackets and Andrew Bridge’s psychedelic kaleidoscope create a lively ’60s environment. And “Steam Heat” (“The Pajama Game”) sizzles to perfection in the hands of second lead Jane Lanier, Michael Paternostro and Alex Sanchez.
Banks of lights stretch from floor to ceiling on either side of the stage, next to two lamp-laden arches that glide inward to frame the dancers; the effect is of a grand rehearsal hall dolled up with strip and chase lights, and silver and blue lame curtains that float in and out for a more formal look.
One can’t help but wonder what Fosse would have done with similar access to computerized laser lights and digital technology, or how he would have handled a no-smoking bylaw (the lip-dangling cigarettes are as much a part of the atmosphere and attitude as the physical moves).
In its technical delivery and desire to bring Fosse’s extraordinary talent to a new generation, “A Celebration in Song and Dance” is forward-looking, but there is also a commitment to preservation that, were it not for the pulsating life force inhabiting the choreography, could verge on mummification; each twitch, slide of the hat, kick of the leg, snap of the finger and tilt of the head has been resurrected with ghostly perfection and iconic adoration.
Creators Richard Maltby, Chet Walker, Reinking and presumably artistic adviser Gwen Verdon (Fosse’s wife) have avoided this pitfall by creating a through-line of moods reflected in the show’s subtitles — “Chicago Influences, ” “Hollywood,” “New York” and “Complexities” — that move the show smoothly forward and unite disparate pieces into an eloquent, beautiful and occasionally awe-inspiring dedication.
But what the show does most successfully is showcase Fosse’s ability to take a finite lexicon and stretch and pommel it into a rich oeuvre that has only grown more rewarding with the distance of time. The glitches, such as they are, will no doubt be ironed out for a Broadway run.