Bob Fosse's Dancin' Comes Home to Broadway

In 1978, Wayne Cilento, then a rising young Broadway performer, got the chance to try to impress Bob Fosse.

Fosse, who died in 1987, was at the time a firmly established legend, best known for his distinctive jazzy choreography for musicals like The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, Sweet Charity and Chicago. In a 40-year career, he won nine Tony Awards, three Primetime Emmy Awards and an Academy Award for directing the film version of Cabaret.

"I was in The Act with Liza Minnelli," Cilento told Newsweek. "We were rehearsing on one end of the hall and Bob was at the other end doing pre-production."

Fosse was working on a new show called Dancin' and although it had already been cast, Cilento managed to secure an audition with Fosse and his muse and lead dancer, Ann Reinking.

"They started teaching me stuff and he danced with us, and I had a ball," Cilento remembers. "He looked at me and he shook my hand and he said, 'Thank you very much. I appreciate you coming in.'"

Cilento says he left thinking that was as close as he'd ever getting to being in a Fosse show, but nonetheless "flying with excitement."

On the opening night of The Act, though, Cilento thought he was going to faint when he spotted Fosse in a center orchestra seat. At a party after the premiere, Fosse told him, "I want you in the show." Cilento stayed with The Act at night while joining Dancin' rehearsals during the day.

"It was number after number after number in all different styles," he said. "Bob at the time was free and he wanted to experiment with dancers. It was like a breath of fresh air."

The show was not a play, but not quite a traditional musical, either. It was really Fosse's personal love letter to his art, a unique multi-act combination of music, dance and sketches that is a tribute to and celebration of dance.

Cilento was in nearly every number and when the show opened, he earned a Tony Award nomination for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical. Fosse himself scored a Tony for choreography

This March 19, Dancin' is coming back to Broadway at the Music Box Theatre and Cilento is returning with it, this time as its director. "I think people that are interested in dance or not [will] get a lot out of this," he says, adding this "feel-good" show is "just joy."

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Left to right: Dancin’ cast members Kolton Krouse, Ida Saki, Khori Michelle Petinaud, Jacob Guzman and Yani Marin. (Julieta Cervantes) Julieta CervantesThe show’s choreographer Bob Fosse in his office in 1974.

A Show by Dancers, For Dancers

With Broadway currently almost "saturated" with revivals, Cilento said he wanted to update Dancin' to "make it relevant for today."

He admits that at first, he wasn't sure how a 45-year-old show would work for 2023 audiences.

"My question to myself was, 'What would Bob do if he was doing Dancin' today?'' He was so ahead of the curve and with technology and his experience from filmmaking.... How would he approach Dancin'?" he said.

The original production was structured like a burlesque show with dancers going on and off stage as an announcer presented each new number.

"That stylistic way is not going to work today," Cilento said. "I think it needs to move like a film."

So Cilento drew from Fosse's film experience and put the show on a soundstage, which, he says, opens the possibility of the story to "go anywhere."

At its core, though, Dancin' remains a show by dancers, for dancers.

Cast member Yani Marin told Newsweek dancers don't usually get to be the leads in shows. They are put in the ensemble and pushed to the back where they are not engaging with the plot or the main cast "as a whole person telling a story." Not so with Dancin', she said. Without a definitive plot line, dancers are the primary focus.

"I feel really lucky that the features that have been assigned to me allow me to express myself," she said, adding that learning and experiencing Fosse has brought her "joy to a level I had forgotten existed."

And having an original cast member on the team made learning choreography easier for the dancers.

Marin, known for her role in the original Broadway cast of the 2009 West Side Story revival, says Cilento understands the Fosse choreography "on a whole other level."

"There's something there that you can't teach," she said. "It's just this feel, this essence."

Dancer Nando Morland told Newsweek that Cilento is such a passionate, excited person" that is experienced in the show and with Fosse.

"His experience as a dancer in that time and in the show is so evident in the way that he moves and it's so fun to watch him demonstrate," he said.

Morland, who was in the 2020 Broadway revival of West Side Story and the national tour of Fiddler on the Roof, said he has long-been inspired by the "funk and contortion" of Fosse's style.

"There's so much musicality and spunk in his style and in his language that it always felt really exciting and really a little bit like home," Morland said.

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Jacob Guzman and Mattie Love in Dancin’. Julieta Cervantes

Second Chances

The show is not just a revival of a Broadway hit, but for some of the cast a personal revival.

Marin said she had retired from dancing before being cast.

"I had stopped dancing pretty much and I've been transitioning heavily into more acting for TV and film.," she said.

During the pandemic, she said, like many other performers she fell into a "really depressive state."

But as she went through the audition process, she began "experiencing joy again."

Morland also took a detour from performing during the pandemic. After West Side Story in early 2020, he moved to Denver to work as a substitute teacher.

"I did take a break from dancing, so coming back, it was super exciting to have my first dance job back in the city and my first dance experience be Dancin'," he said. "Like literally dancing."

Morland said a revival should be about honoring history while giving the show new life.

"I think what makes a good revival is a balance of upholding and releasing tradition," he said. "Honoring the past and respectfully discarding what no longer resonates"

While the show is built on the foundation of Fosse's choreography, Morland said it also celebrates individual dancers with collaborations in the dialogue and acting to represent the current moment.

"I'm not playing one character throughout," he said. "While we do move in and out of various scenes and environments, I feel I really get to be myself in the show."

"We're going to try to honor this choreography but because you're in a body that exists right now, in this time...the influence of your own life and your own experience will move through that formula in a way that gives a completely new life," Morland adds.

"I just feel like people are gonna want to dance and that's such a beautiful language that we all understand," Marin said. "It's like when you see someone smile, that's contagious."

Update, 3/8/2023, 11:50 a.m. ET: This story was updated with quotes from dancer Nando Morland.