You couldn't be any more surprised than I am that one of the most enjoyable theatrical experiences I've been having over the past few weeks has been watching a reality TV show. It's called "So You Think You Can Dance." The show, produced by some of the same people behind "American Idol," is a competition featuring a group of young people who perform different styles of dance each week and are eliminated by a panel of judges and the phone-in votes from viewers at-home. But where the winners and even the runners-up of "American Idol" can expect recording contracts and concert bookings (or in the case of Jennifer Hudson, an Oscar-winning movie role; or Fantasia, a critically acclaimed star turn on Broadway), there isn't a lot for the dancers to look forward to. One of the prizes for this year's "So You Think You Can Dance" winner is a job in Celine Dion's Las Vegas show.
In the old days, they would have become Broadway gypsies of the kind celebrated in A Chorus Line. And there would have been enough singing and dancing shows for the very best of them to hone their talent and maybe even to emerge as stars like Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera and Tommy Tune or choreographers and directors like Bob Fosse, Michael Bennett and Graciela Daniele. But Broadway doesn't dance the way it used to. The next to last sentence in the New York Time's obituary on the premature death, at 57, of Thommie Walsh, the original Bobby in A Chorus Line who went on to win two Tonys for his collaborations with Tune on A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine and My One and Only, was a sad reminder of that. It read: "In recent years Mr. Walsh worked as a real estate agent in Manhattan, where he lived."
And yet, the kids on “So You Think You Can Dance” have a serious case of happy feet. They range from self-taught break dancers to formally-trained ballroom dancers but all of them are gung-ho to learn different ways to strut their stuff and they dance their hearts out to entertain you. There’s a sprinkling of hard luck back stories to add some drama in each episode but its their passion for dance that keeps me coming back. And it’s not just me. The show, now in its third season as a summer replacement on the Fox network, regularly makes it into Nielsen's Top 10. Many of the viewers are young and in my fantasy, the show's neo-gypsies turn so many of their fans on to the sheer joy of dancing—and of watching dancing—that producers of TV shows, movies and, most especially, Broadway musicals start mixing more dance into what they turn out. But in the meantime, you can tune in on Wednesday and Thursday nights for the next eight weeks.