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April 26, 2007

Bob and Gwen

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Another YouTube treat: Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse doing an informal presentation of Richard Adler and Jerry Ross' "Whatever Lola Wants," from "Damn Yankees":

I love the combo of salaciousness and innocence, of delicacy and obviousness. It's all so vulgar, so vaudeville -- so icy-hot, so sleazy-lovable, and so sweetly insolent. I love Verdon's confidence and mischief. And I love the fact that an artist as erotically-driven as Bob Fosse took a goofy girl like Gwen Verdon as his muse. Talent was what turned him on. Well, one of the things that turned him on.

A friend of mine who adores doing Fosse-style dance tells me that the thing that surprised her when she started to do Fosse was how held-in his movements are. "The impact is big," she says. "But the hip thrusts, the pelvic wagging, and the shoulder rolls are actually physically very tiny. You clear out a lot of space around them. And the fun is in building up such a big charge beneath them that these little movements knock the viewer over."

As far as I'm concerned, Bob Fosse was a genius. Does American art get any better than than the "Steam Heat" number from "Pajama Game"? Did Toulouse-Lautrec ever do anything as mockingly deadpan and juicy -- as exhausted yet provocative -- as "Big Spender" from "Sweet Charity"?

The immortal song was written by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields.

Not all that long ago, Fosse -- who died at 60 in 1987 -- was a huge figure, famous for stage and screen productions, as well as for winning eight Tony awards. These days ... Well, do young people even know his name at all? They might enjoy exploring his work. Much contemporary pop culture comes out of Fosse -- the choreography in music videos, for example, as well as the way music and dance are typically edited. The stop-and-start fireworks in "Big Spender"? The writhing ecstasy that slams into sudden languors? Movies had never moved like that before Bob Fosse came along.

Some more glimpses of Fosse's work are here, here, and (oo-la-la -- corny but hot) here. Here's the Bob Fosse website. Wikipedia's entry on Fosse is first-class. The Fosse film to start with is "Cabaret." Here's Wikipedia on Gwen Verdon.



posted by Michael at April 26, 2007


Fosse is the only musical theater I enjoy. Sweet Charity and Cabaret are works of towering genius. And you're right, it's the small movements that count in his stuff. A lot of times, the dancers are quite literally barely lifting a finger, and yet the impact is huge.

Posted by: the patriarch on April 26, 2007 5:35 PM

Gwen Verdon - What a doll.

Posted by: ricpic on April 26, 2007 6:44 PM

I love Fosse too.

And he was a great film director. Very unique in some ways. Generally, when filming dance numbers its best just to stay in master, using as few cuts as possible, with the camera swooping in and out, back and forth to catch the performance at the best angle. But Fosse managed to combine quick editing and choreography so that they fit together perfectly. Of course, when you're both director and choreographer this is a lot easier to do. Recent directors like Baz Luhrman and Rob Marshall have tried to copy him, but they just end up hacking their dance numbers to pieces: their movies end up being very annoying. But the original managed to pull it off, and I am grateful for the result!

Posted by: Thursday on April 26, 2007 10:08 PM

"What use is sitting alone in your room?" Isn't that what almost all your readers are doing? Or are they skiving at work?

Posted by: dearieme on April 26, 2007 11:30 PM

I've always loved Fosse, even before I knew who he was. Imagine a 9-year-old girl wandering the house singing "Hey Big Spender!" and doing all the dance moves. And let's not forget "All That Jazz." Also a big fan of Ben Vereen, who I saw in "Pippin" on Broadway with my 6th grade class.

Posted by: Alexandra on April 27, 2007 10:17 AM

Fosse's choreography was what was remarkable. Unique, trademarked, hip, fun. He made others look like they were creating dances for mechanical windup dolls. He really was a "genius." Not much of a husband or companion, apparently, but a genius.

Posted by: annette on April 27, 2007 10:39 AM

Patriarch -- I'm with you on "towering"!

Ricpic -- I miss that kind of quirkiness, don't you? The plastic surgery and career training that's so common these days (not to mention the virtuosic orthodenture) seems to result in homogenization of physical and probably character types. There are some Lisa Kudrows and such around, and I guess I wonder if I'm just being grumpy. But it does seem as though prior eras were happier to enjoy a wider range of personality/physical types. Hmm, I wonder if that's really true ...

Thursday -- That's really smart. Fosse wasn't just chopping shit up. He somehow merged the choreography and the camera and the editing. I'm not 100% certain I approve of the effect he's had on how dance is presented on screen these days. But he certainly showed how it could be done.

Dearieme -- I saw figures somewhere indicating that something like 80% of blog visiting happens during work hours. Time for an economist to try to make some sense out of this.

Alexandra -- I bet Fosse-dance looks like the funnest thing in the world to a little girl.

Annette -- We don't seem to have that kind of genius around in popular culture, the one guy around him all kinds of fireworks just seem to happen. Maybe because things generally have become more dispersed. Which is OK by me, though I'm not about to not-enjoy the old-style geniuses either. Was Fosse a disastrous hubby/companion? I skimmed a bio of him once but can't remember all that much ... But haven't Verdon and Reinking remained loyal ever since, always standing up for him? I wonder if dancers and choreographers maybe don't have the same expectations and understandings about stuff like relationships that the rest of us do ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 27, 2007 10:54 AM

I think Verdon and Reinking were "in love" with what he did for them as dancers. A true dancer would have loved to be someone like Fosse's muse. But, no, I don't believe that they "loved" it, in real time, when they walked in and found Bob in bed with someone else---as Verdon did with Reinking, and Reinking did with several others. Plus Verdon had a daughter with him, so she may have muted public comment for that reason. See "All that Jazz"--the movie bio (or "based on the life of") Fosse, which starred Roy Scheider. Women, cigarettes, overwork, overstress...and great creativity. He was the classic charming scoundrel.

Posted by: annette on April 27, 2007 11:32 AM

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