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FOSSE by Sam Wasson Kirkus Star

FOSSE

By Sam Wasson

Pub Date: Nov. 5th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-547-55329-0
Publisher: Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The lushly researched life of celebrated dancer, choreographer and director (stage, films, TV) Bob Fosse (1927–1987).

Film critic and biographer Wasson (Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman, 2010, etc.) has amassed a mountain of data about Fosse but has sculpted it into something moving and memorable. With chapters whose titles remind us of his approaching death (“Fifteen Years,” “Five Years,” “One Hour and Fifty-Three Minutes”), the author both increases the dramatic irony of the dancer’s days and reminds us continually of life’s evanescence. After a swift chapter about Fosse’s boyhood—for a long time, he concealed his dancing passion and skills)—Wasson guides us through his incredibly productive career (in a single year, 1973, he won a Tony, an Oscar and an Emmy), providing engaging detail about his major productions—Sweet CharityPippinCabaretChicagoAll That Jazz and others. Wasson shows us Fosse’s enormous empathy for his dancers, his ferocious work ethic, his reliance on uppers and cigarettes, and his constitutional inability to remain faithful to a single woman. His hotel room during productions was, well, a chorus line. A few resisted him (he never seemed to bear a grudge), and former wife, fellow choreographer and gifted dancer Gwen Verdon remained in his orbit to the absolute end—she was with him when he collapsed on the street. We see, too, his close friendships (Paddy Chayefsky, E.L. Doctorow), his rivalries (Michael Bennett) and his friendly rivals (Jerome Robbins). The author also reveals a deeply insecure artist who wanted to be a writer and was always certain his productions would fail—and, in the late cases of Big Deal and Star 80, he was certainly correct.

Graceful prose creates a richly detailed and poignant portrait, simultaneously inspiring and depressing.