Following in the footsteps of Bob Fosse Stage: Dancer and choreographer Ann Reinking has made her mark on the Broadway revival of "Chicago," but she gives her late mentor most of the credit.

April 13, 1997|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

NEW YORK -- As a dancer, Ann Reinking broke out of "the Fosse clump." As a choreographer, she's keeping the clump together.

The clump was a trademark of the late Bob Fosse's choreography. It consisted of dancers oozing across the stage as one, amoeba-like entity.

Reinking, a personal as well as professional protege of Fosse's, was one of his favored soloists. Before being sidelined with a back injury last month, she demonstrated what set her apart from the clump by starring in the hit Broadway revival of "Chicago," a musical Fosse directed, choreographed and co-wrote in 1975.

The lead role of Roxie Hart, chorine-turned-murderess, is one Reinking first played on Broadway two decades ago. But it is as the revival's choreographer that Reinking is having her greatest impact, using her mentor's distinctive vocabulary to create new dances "in the style of Bob Fosse," as she proudly credits them in the program.

"One of the things that made Bob so unique and wonderful is that he had a genuine style, like Balanchine, like de Mille. There's a definite look," Reinking said in the only interview she has given since her injury. On a sunny spring day a fortnight ago, she entered an upper East Side restaurant dressed in jeans and a navy wool blazer and walking with a cane. With her hair pulled back and wearing next to no makeup, she looked younger than her 47 years, though that is a venerable age for most dancers.

She describes the Fosse style using terms like: elegant, angular, crooked, isolated, turned in, staccato and, of course, the clump. "Bob's work gleaned from hoofing, from vaudeville, from ballet. He had a very eclectic history to his work, and then it just sort of evolved into this other entity," she explains.

"Creativity is not a mysterious thing, it's a historical thing. What's mysterious is when it mushrooms into yet another level, and that's what separated him from other people and made him a great choreographer."

"Chicago" has been playing to packed houses since it opened on Broadway in November. On Wednesday the national touring production opens at Washington's National Theatre. Coming only six months after the show took Broadway by storm, it is one of the quickest touring shows to hit the road in recent memory.

Charlotte d'Amboise, who plays Reinking's role of Roxie in the touring company, is an unabashed fan of both Fosse and Reinking. "There's nobody that dances like her, I don't think. She's so beautiful and balletically trained, and yet she dances like an animal. She has abandonment, and yet it's in control," d'Amboise says, adding, "Annie is not Fosse. She's her own person and as unique and special in her own way. You don't feel, oh, I wish I had Fosse. You've got Annie."

Much theorizing has gone into explaining why "Chicago" is so much more successful today than when it premiered. It certainly had an A-list creative team. The score was by John Kander and Fred Ebb, whose credits included "Cabaret" and "Zorba," and who would go on to write "Kiss of the Spider Woman" and this season's much-heralded "Steel Pier."

Fosse had already directed and choreographed "Sweet Charity" and "Pippin," a 1972 hit still running when "Chicago" opened. The eight-time Tony Award winner, who died in 1987, reached his widest public as the Oscar-winning choreographer of "Cabaret" and director and co-author of the autobiographical film "All That Jazz," which featured Reinking in her real-life role as his lover.

One explanation for the relatively low profile of the original production of "Chicago" is that, although it ran for more than 900 performances, it was overshadowed by the groundbreaking musical "A Chorus Line," which opened a few months earlier.

Another is that audiences in 1975 may not have been ready to accept the show's cynical, albeit satirical, plot. Set in the 1920s, primarily in a Chicago jail, the musical focuses on a pair of accused murderesses determined to turn their notoriety into celebrity.

"It was conceived as a genuine satire, and a rather unrelenting satire of the American judicial system and also [of] making stars out of heinous people -- the reverse side of glamour," Reinking says. "It's also a satire against irresponsible consumerism, because if we didn't eat all this stuff up, it wouldn't be presented."

As proof, she points to tabloid TV shows such as "Hard Copy," as well as the example of the O. J. Simpson trials. "So we believe it more now than we did 20 years ago," she says.

Reinking's choreographic interpretation has been described as gentler and more light-hearted than Fosse's. And, she says, the revival allows you "to get more intimate with the characters."

In the case of her character, she feels that, though "Roxie was always designed to have a vulnerability," her approach has grown more layered and rich with age.

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