Posts By: Jon

Magic To Do: Tribute to the Talents of Bob Fosse

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This Sunday Evening, November 11, 2012, Curtain Call Sing-Along @ MOVA Lounge DC presents “Magic to Do“, a tribute to Master Director-Choreographer Bob Fosse.  Here is a preview from VJ Jonathan Large.

Fosse was larger than life in many respects: creative, innovative and he burned the candle at both ends. Fosse’s jazz-ish dance style was “instantly recognizable, exuding a stylized, cynical sexuality.” Other trademarks included the use of turned-in-knees, sideways shuffling, and rolled shoulders (in a television interview, Fosse explained his shoulders were rounded; rolled shoulders were a way to distract this physical characteristic). Gloved hands were another Fosse trademark because he did not like his hands. Hats: Fosse was self-conscious of his early male pattern baldness so he clad his dancers with hats according to Fosse biographer Martin Gottfried.

The first number, “Magic to Do” is from the Broadway musical PIPPIN, featuring Ben Vereen with music by Stephen Schwartz. Fosse was awarded with a Tony in 1973 for PIPPIN (also in 1973, he won an Academy Award for CABARET and an Emmy for LIZA WITH A Z, the first person to win these awards the same year). Reportedly, Fosse was less than impressed with Schwartz’s score and rewrote the book. Critics lauded Fosse’s staging and were polite at best when mentioning the score.

Cole Porter’s KISS ME KATE, a Broadway musical retelling of Shakespeare’s TAMING OF THE SHREW, features an early Bob Fosse in a number not from the stage production, “From This Moment On”. Reviewed decades later by a New York Times critic for a then recent movie revival: “His big number, from ‘This Moment On,’ has the irrespirable sparkle of history being made on screen,” that Fosse capitalized his “liabilities – pigeon-toed gait sunken chest, stooped shoulders – and turn them into the loops of an original signature . . . Fosse provided the nascent artistry of a boy genius working out his ideas right in front of you.”

1957’s THE PAJAMA GAME featured Fosse’s volcanic choreography in several numbers, including “Seven and a Half Cents,” “Steam Heat,” and “Hernando’s Hideaway,” featuring the show’s Broadway lead, Carole Haney. Fosse was partnered on screen with wife Gwen Verdon in 1958’s DAMN YANKEES in the mambo dance number “Who’s Got the Pain.” He had choreographed this number for both stage and on screen.

SWEET CHARITY was a vehicle for Gwen Verdon on Broadway in 1966, but the Universal preferred Shirley MacLaine for its film version. The movie provided Fosse the opportunity to direct as well as choreograph for the first time. One of the most popular numbers in the film is “Rich Man’s Frug,” featuring once again Fosse favorite Ben Vereen and taking place at a swank Manhattan night club. The film was released as a “road show” attraction in March 1969 but failed to recoup its investment. MacLaine’s performance as a taxi dancer in a seedy Manhattan dance hall was Oscar nominated, but many critics at the time deemed Fosse’s direction as self-indulgent.

This is not the version Jonathan picked out, I liked this live version from 1966 more.

The critics changed their tune a few years later, however, regarding Fosse’s brilliant cinematic adaptation of Broadway’s CABARET. Fosse completely reworked the play for film, eliminating all the integrated “book” songs from the score. All musical numbers would be performed at Berlin’s Kit Kat Club cabaret – including the composed for movie “Mein Herr” (exception: the chilling “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” takes place out of doors at an impromptu Nazi rally). Stars Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey were rewarded with Oscars, as was Best Director Fosse. He faced formidable competition from “The Godfather” and its director, Francis Ford Coppola in the Oscar race.

LIZA WITH A Z, starring Liza Minnelli, features all the aforementioned Fosse trademarks – gloves, hats, rolled shoulders, etc. “Ring Them Bells” was one of the most memorable musical numbers in this television special and was a popular and critical smash.

CHICAGO opened in June 1975. It featured another Kander and Ebb (CABARET) score, stars Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera and Jerry Orbach – and direction and choreography by Bob Fosse. Watch Jerry Orbach and chorus from the original production perform “All I Care About.” CHICAGO was nominated for several Tony Awards but was shut out by another landmark musical that season: A CHORUS LINE. However, CHICAGO would take on a new life with its still-running revival and a very popular Oscar-winning film adaptation.

Fosse’s last screen appearance was as “The Snake” in the Lerner and Loewe screen adaptation of Antoine de Saint- Exupery’s THE LITTLE PRINCE. The 1974 film was such a flop that its studio, Paramount, yanked the film from distribution after only a few weeks. However, the film not only featured Fosse but other Broadway luminaries, Richard (MAN OF LA MANCHA) Kiley and Donna (A CHORUS LINE, COMPANY) McKechnie, as well as Gene Wilder. Nonetheless, Fosse’s number, “A Snake in the Grass,” is a tour-de-force. Watch closely, and you will discover the source material for several Michael Jackson videos.