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Vereen Dominates a Sentimentalized ‘Fosse’

TIMES DANCE CRITIC

Compared to the versions previously seen on local stages, a very different edition of the Broadway musical “Fosse” comes to the PBS “Great Performances” series tonight.

In its pre-Broadway tour and national company performances, “Fosse” was not only a tribute to the acclaimed choreographer and director who died in 1987, but also a restaging of his dances for a whole new generation of virtuosos.

The TV version, however, is dominated by veteran song-and-dance man Ben Vereen, who worked for Fosse a number of times and now takes over number after number, including “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries,” an anthem that used to belong to the show’s female diva.

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Even without the occasional appearances of Fosse protege (and “Fosse” co-director) Ann Reinking, the Vereen segments turn “Fosse” into a nostalgia musical, one further sentimentalized by interview footage that tries to erase the bad-boy image that Fosse cultivated and make him an icon of the American work ethic.

Taped on Broadway last August, the TV “Fosse” has also been shortened, running under two hours, with four numbers missing that survive in the home videocassette and DVD available from Image Entertainment.

As usual with its re-cut dance programming, PBS adds no “edited for television” title to the credits.

TV director Matthew Diamond confuses some of the large-scale choreography but handles intimate passages skillfully.

Moreover, most of the numbers that Fosse originally choreographed for film and television do look better on camera here than they did when restaged for the theater.

Vereen works hard, if not always well, but the show’s original edge and style come through in fine performances by Ken Alan, Rachelle Rak, Marc Calamia, Meg Gillentine and Dana Moore.

Poor Edwaard Liang. Not only does his star solo and a steamy duet end up on the PBS cutting-room floor, but his dancing in the “Mr. Bojangles” number gets minimized by lighting and camera angles that emphasize Vereen.

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“Fosse” airs at 9 tonight on KCET-TV’s “Great Performances” series.


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