Near the end of the slick, sophisticated, Tony Award-winning musical revue "Fosse," at the Mechanic Theatre, a dancer shuffles out in patched trousers. Already bent over, he bends down a little more, picks up a discarded cigar and lights it. As a singer on the sidelines begins a slow, gentle rendition of "Mr. Bojangles," the frail dancer is joined by a buff, robust young counterpart.
Portraying the song's aged title character, Vincent Sandoval embodies the cliche "a shadow of his former self." The lithe and limber Terace Jones envelops Sandoval like a smoke-shrouded dream, becoming Bojangles in his heyday, Bojangles as he remembers himself.
In less than 10 minutes, a mini-musical has been enacted. Heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time, the number demonstrates that dance, as well as music, is a universal language. Director/choreographer Bob Fosse, who died in 1987, spoke that language fluently, and it has been lovingly re-created here by a team that includes such Fosse intimates as Ann Reinking, Chet Walker and Gwen Verdon, working with Broadway lyricist and director Richard Maltby Jr.
Trimmed and tightened for the road, this touring production - with nearly two dozen splendid dancers - is more taut and cohesive than its Broadway counterpart. The beautifully balanced, varied evening of entertainment drags only a mite in the final production number, set to Benny Goodman's "Sing, Sing, Sing."
Before that, however, there are almost too many high points to enumerate in this review. For example, there's Jones' first appearance, sporting a pair of trademark Fosse white gloves as he serves as a terpsichorean conjurer, summoning the ensemble on stage to demonstrate classic Fosse steps from shows ranging from "Damn Yankees" to "Cabaret." It's a lexicon of the Fosse vocabulary - the cocked head, thrust hip, turned-in feet or shoulders that seem to dance all by themselves.
A few minutes later, when Jones dances a solo to a percussive score from Fosse's own 1978 revue, "Dancin'," he combines grace and athleticism with show-stopping finesse. It is as if his body is responding to unseen external force that he beguilingly toys with and resists. In the midst of the current Olympic fervor, Jones is the show's gold medal winner.
Vocally, its star is Reva Rice, whose sly, languorous rendition of "Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries" bookends the show with its reminder that dance - and art for that matter - is about contemplation as much as tours de force. Just after intermission, when she belts out "Dancing in the Dark," her voice takes on a smoky, jazzy quality.
The show has plenty of humor, too. Towson University alum Linda Bowen is the center cog in the Charlie Chaplin-esque trio that performs "Steam Heat," with bowler hats popping up as if responding to invisible bursts of steam. In the ironically staged "Big Spender," she and Rice are joined by eight female dancers, who drape themselves over a rail in various bored, jaded poses as they issue come-ons that are about as enticing as a contagious disease.
The cast includes two other former Charm City residents - Baltimore School for the Arts grad Josef Patrick Pescetto, who provides the smooth vocalizing in "Mr. Bojangles," and native Baltimorean Rick Delancy, who portrays Dancin' Dan in "Dancin' Dan (Me and My Shadow)." They're an impressive home team, but the entire ensemble is top caliber.
"I'm gonna leave my footsteps on the sands of time," the cast sings in "I Wanna Be a Dancin' Man." This sleek, elegant show helps guarantee that those footsteps will be there for a long time to come.
Where: Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, 25 Hopkins Plaza
When: 8 p.m. tonight through Saturday, 6:30 p.m. Sunday; matinees at 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday