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'Fosse' Brings Back Choreographer's Show-Stopping Numbers

Bob Fosse, the late choreographer and director who shimmered through the golden age of American musical theater from the 1950s to the 1980s, loved dancers and was well loved by many of them.

Three performers closest to him - Chet Walker, Ann Reinking, and Gwen Verdon - have brought his repertoire to razzle-dazzle life again in a stage musical called "Fosse: a Celebration in Song and Dance." Richard Maltby Jr. also helped direct the material.

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As the show opens, a larger-than-life photo of Mr. Fosse, airbrushed onto the gauzy curtain, hangs above a single performer. A pair of proscenium arches, ringed with glowing bulbs and edged by footlights, seems to declare, "It's show time, folks," in the manner of Joe Gideon, Fosse's thinly disguised alter ego in his 1979 film, "All That Jazz." On cue, 29 numbers unfurl on a set designed by Santo Loquasto.

"Fosse" documents the choreographer's career, though without a narrator or much dialogue (program notes add details). Don't look for a purpose beyond pure entertainment, unless it's a historical march through some of the most memorable scenes in American theatrical dance.

The cast of 26 singer-dancers, with 10 alternates, has been precisely trained in each curling finger, swirling pelvis, hitched-up shoulder pose, and floppy hand gesture that marks Fosse's style, ratcheting up the moves to the speed and energy of a Category 4 hurricane.

For nearly three hours, the troupe blazes its way through well-known Fosse numbers: show-stopping "Steam Heat" from "The Pajama Game"; the baseball team ballet "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo." from "Damn Yankees"; and the witty "Rich Man's Frug" from "Sweet Charity." Some works were painstakingly reconstructed from old TV footage, pirated films, and the memories of former dancers.

"There's the whole archival aspect of the show, quite separate from what's onstage," Mr. Maltby says. "We don't want this to be the Bob Fosse museum, but when the show is finished, we have a body of work on the people who are in the show."

Ms. Reinking, Fosse's leading lady in the 1970s, lists Fred Astaire, George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, and Jack Cole among Fosse's inspirations.

Born in 1927, Fosse began his career at age 13 in the vaudeville theaters, burlesque halls, and nightclubs of his native Chicago. He moved on to chorus parts on Broadway, performing in films for MGM, and a career that included choreographing and directing for theater, film, and television.

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In 1973 alone, Fosse hit home runs in three media with an Oscar (the movie "Cabaret"), a Tony (the Broadway show "Pippin"), and an Emmy (the TV special "Liza With a Z").

The parade of numbers in "Fosse" shows the choreographer's sophisticated take on what he saw as a sometimes dark-tinged world. He transformed that vision into sophisticated urban dances with more than a tilt toward the sensual.

"Fosse" is a show that succeeds in thrilling audiences with song and dance while paying homage to the man and his art.

The production, which opened this summer in Toronto, is in Los Angeles until Dec. 6. Its Broadway opening is scheduled for Dec. 26.

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