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Published: Friday, 5/2/2003

Sleek & sensual

BY NANCIANN CHERRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Some people seem to be in the right place at the right time, and Michael James Scott counts himself among them.

Like many people in their early 20s, Scott is looking forward to college graduation, and he's working hard on his senior project. In Scott's case, that means applying his makeup, putting on his costumes, and slinking onto the stage just about every night in Fosse.

Scott is one of the lead dancers in the 1999 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical that plays the Stranahan Theater tonight through Sunday, and his performance is his senior project.

“How cool is that?” he said with a laugh from Pensacola, Fla., where the show was playing recently. “December is when I got this tour, and I'm finishing up my academic class online and my performance credit is the tour.”

Scott is a senior at Webster University in St. Louis, where he returns next weekend to be awarded his bachelor of fine arts in musical theater. Then he hits the road again in the show that he calls unique.

“[Fosse] is a musical revue of all of Bob Fosse's work, not just his dances. There are things from all realms of what he did, from his earliest part of his career to his latest,” Scott said.

If the name Bob Fosse (rhymes with saucy) is not familiar, the names of shows on which he worked almost certainly will be. The Pajama Game. Chicago. Cabaret. Sweet Charity. All That Jazz. Damn Yankees. Pippin. The list goes on. On some he worked as an actor, on others he was the choreographer, on yet others he was the director and choreographer. He won nine Tony Awards, one Academy Award, and three Emmy Awards. In 1973 he made theatrical history when he won the year's three major directing awards: the Tony for Pippin, the Oscar for Cabaret, and the Emmy for Liza with a Z.

Fosse will incorporate scenes from all these, plus “Big Spender” from Sweet Charity, “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo” from Damn Yankees, “Mein Herr” from Cabaret, “Razzle Dazzle” from Chicago, and “Steam Heat” from The Pajama Game.

Twenty-six performers, each trained in the Fosse style by Debra McWaters and Fosse protege Ann Reinking, will perform multiple dancing, singing, and acting roles in the show. Among them is Scott, who trained with dancers Reinking, Ben Vereen, and Gwen Verdon, Fosse's former wife, through the Broadway Theatre Project in Orlando, where his family moved from Baltimore.

Scott said he didn't really start dancing until middle school. “My parents knew that I loved to sing, and they kind of got me into some things in Florida, commercials and stuff like that. I was in chorus and choir in middle school, but one day I was watching a music video on MTV, and I started mimicking the dancers on the show, doing their moves. My parents didn't know what to do with that. Literally. They didn't know anything about dance classes, it wasn't something they were into when they were younger. My mother was a singer, but she didn't do any dancing,” he explained.

He entered a performing arts high school, and that led him to Webster University, which led him to Fosse.

The show is unusual because it lacks a story line, but flows like a traditional play. The action usually never stops, Scott says, because there are transitions between each number that weave the sequences together. “You may see just one person walk across the stage, and you won't realize you're heading into another number until it's there,” he said.

Fosse also incorporates many of the director-choreographer's trademark elements, Scott said, one of which is costuming. “We wear a lot of black, because it's very dark and sensual,” he said. “There's a very sexy feel to the show.”

Another of Fosse's trademarks are the precise movements.

“You can see things like the teacup hands, which are basically like if you put your index finger and thumb together, and the middle finger and pinky and ring finger are up and spread, often when we're holding a hat. It's a very signature move, something very Fosse,” Scott said. Look for it in the “Bye Bye Blackbird” sequence.

“Another move is something called back bumps, which is this pelvic thrust that just moves in a backward motion,” he said. Linkage, which has the dancers' arms interwoven like a chain, fingers spread, hands pointed to the floor or sky, can be spotted during the trombone solo in “Sing, Sing, Sing.” And the shoulder drop with an extended arm can be spotted in “Cool Hand Luke,” which Scott termed a beautiful number.

“It was choreographed by Bob for Gwen [Verdon] when they had their first child,” he said. And it was shown to the public in October, 1968, in The Bob Hope Special on television.

Scott is featured in seven numbers - there are 20 altogether, with five transitions - and he couldn't pick a favorite. When pressed, he narrowed his choices to two: “Dancin' Dan” and “Mr. Bojangles.”

“'Dancin' Dan' is such a smooooooth number,” he said. “It's about this guy who's running around town. People are trying to catch him in his game, but he doesn't get caught because he's very slick. It's one of those numbers that starts off small and just gets bigger and bigger, and by the end it's huge.

“Then you have `Bojangles,' which is based on a real man. That number is so touching. This man is in his 60s, and he's remembering his past, and there's another dancer representing the young man who was Mr. Bojangles. So you see this old man dancing around with his cigar, and you see this other dancer representing what he used to be. It shows what he went through, the hard parts and the triumph of his life, and it gives basically the entire life story in one song.”

Scott said he plays the older Bojangles, which makes it one of the most difficult numbers for him to do. He not only has to maneuver his body into the shape of an old man, he must act like one. “It's a completely different mindset,” he said. “And it forces me to do some acting as well as dancing.”

Until Bob Fosse came along, there were basically three styles of movie dancing: The huge production numbers of Busby Berkeley, the sweeping sophistication of Fred Astaire, and the gravity-defying athletics of Gene Kelly. Fosse brought something different to the stage and made it all his own. It's sleek and sensual, yes, and it's often naughty, even nasty. He never confined himself to one style of music, working with tunes from vaudeville's Al Jolson and Billy Rose to modern theater's Kander and Ebb to Neil Diamond.

“Fosse is really in his own league,” Scott said. “Sometimes people may be confused about what's going on in the show because it's so different. It's a crazy up-and-down ride and it shouldn't be analyzed. It's a great journey, just enjoy it.”

“Fosse” opens at 8 tonight in the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Other shows are at 2 and 8 p.m. tomorrow and 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets, $29.50 to $38.50, are still available for all shows and may be purchased from Ticketmaster and the Stranahan box office. Information: 418-381-8851.



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