Fosse at the Prince of Wales Theatre
I'm somewhat baffled that Fosse is being billed as 'London's sexiest, most scintillating new musical'. Even more surprising is the fact that the show, which pays tribute to Broadway legend Bob Fosse who died in 1987, won the 1998 Tony for Best Musical. It isn't just that Fosse fails to electrify on any score - I question whether it actually is a musical at all.
Inspired by Fosse's work as a dancer and choreographer on Broadway and in Hollywood, in such hit shows as Cabaret, Chicago and Sweet Charity, Fosse is composed of a relay of numbers, minus dialogue or any attempt to tell Fosse's story. As a showcase of dance routines, it might have worked - indeed, many feel it has - but for me, Fosse lacks the punch I want from a night in the theatre.
Maybe the show suffers from being too much a labour of love. It was, after all, created by Gwen Verdon and Ann Reinking, both of whom partnered Fosse on and off the stage. Too often, Fosse comes across as Broadway gazing at its own navel and forgetting that, no matter the industry adulation, the man himself just isn't a household name. And for a show like this to work, it needs to speak equally to the people who don't have the full frame of reference as well as to the devotees who do.
Of course, an evening of showstopping routines ought to make for a diverting enough entertainment for anyone. Does it? Well, frankly, I was bored. There actually aren't too many showstoppers on offer. Most of the time we get montages along the lines of 'Fosse's World'. And without the surrounding architecture of the musicals they're extracted from, the abstract dances have no work to do to deepen characterisation or move on a drama.
We're left with a kind of variety show, albeit a classy one. And, dare I say it, sometimes the Fosse style seems to lapse into pastiche. There are moments where the sight of every limb being simultaneously exercised by every dancer makes you think you've stumbled into a high-impact aerobics class. Even numbers like 'Big Spender' and 'Mein Herr' fail to heat up sufficiently.
Just as Fosse has no story or characters to hook onto, the show really has no stars. The routines predominantly involve either the full company or a trio of dancers, dutifully shuffled from the pack. Most of the time, the voices blend into blandness. The one exception is Nicola Hughes, who has a strong presence and a great voice and gets most of the big numbers. Even she, however, is prevented by the show's structure from becoming the lead. Which makes for a starless, and soulless, evening.