Almost any individual portion of "Fosse" would qualify as a highlight of the season thus far. Virtually every sequence stands head and shoulders over the desperate calisthenics of "Footloose" and pedestrian steps of "On the Town." So is it churlish to wish for more?
The answer, sadly, is no. Director-choreographer Bob Fosse may have had a cynical, brooding heart, but it beat unmistakably through the sinuous, defiant, audacious moves of his shows. "Fosse," as reconstructed by such Fosse veterans as Ann Reinking, Chet Walker, Gwen Verdon, and Richard Maltby, Jr., provides plenty of the arms and steps and tushes and hats, but precious little of that heart.
The cast of 32 is ludicrously strong; every performer pulls off the notoriously difficult Fosse style with consummate flash and skill. Theatre stalwarts like Scott Wise and Mary Ann Lamb are joined by such classically trained stars as Elizabeth Parkinson and Desmond Richardson, whose explosive "Percussion 4" solo stands out as a highlight. "From This Moment on," a giddy seduction duet between Lamb and Andy Blankenbuehler, packs more emotion and delight into 45 seconds than most shows do in entire dance sequences.
Not every bit works. Valarie Pettiford and Jane Lanier are accorded star treatment without really being given material befitting stars, although the Lanier-led "Steam Heat" holds its own against the original. The transitional sequences are jarring in their lack of focus and innovation. "Mr. Bojangles" (from "Dancin' ") is asked to withstand far too much emotional weight. And the "All That Jazz" numbers don't make much sense out of context.
The biggest problem, paradoxically, comes from many of the stronger numbers. For the most part, the "Dancin' " and "Big Deal" sequences hold their own as set pieces--that's how they were conceived. But sequences from "Damn Yankees," and the famed "Manson Trio" from "Pippin" are much more effective when they aren't surrounded with a dozen similar numbers.
The "Sing, Sing, Sing" finale brings the evening to a triumphant close. Wise, Eugene Fleming, and Parkinson get one more chance to astound, Santo Loquasto trots out one last set of flashy costumes, and the incredibly hardworking orchestra gets a deserved turn in the spotlight. (The superb Ralph Burns-Douglas Besterman orchestrations make this the rare dance show that absolutely requires a cast recording.) It's so stunning that the evening's faults get shunted off to the side. But they're still there, and they reduce what could have been a true masterpiece to an impressive but ultimately repetitive compendium of dances. Broadway's most rhythmic, rolling razzle-dazzler ever deserves a little bit more.