Robert Louis Fosse Essay, Research Paper
Jimmy Liapis 10/14
Dance for Musical Theatre
Research Paper: Inst. 2
Robert Louis Fosse
Robert Louis Fosse was born on June 23, 1927 in Chicago, Illinois. He was the son of
a vaudevillian and appropriately enough was born into the theatre. As a child, the art of
dance wasn’t only used as a past time by young Fosse, but rather as a way of gaining
attention from friends and family. From an early age he had already started studying
ballet, tap and acrobatic dance. As Fosse grew up, his talented dancing and
signature showmanship had began molding his future career.
While still a teenager, he performed with a partner as the Riff brothers in vaudeville
and burlesque theaters. Before moving to New York and studying acting at the American
Theatre Wing, Fosse finished High School in 1945 and had spent two years in the U.S
Navy. He also made extra money tapping in burlesque halls and strip clubs, where he was
exposed to provocative gestures and poses of strippers. After moving to New York, Fosse
landed his first Broadway job in the chorus of Call Me Mister (1948). His Broadway
debut, however, followed two years later in Dance Me a Song (1950). After debuting on
Broadway Fosse set his sights on Hollywood with dreams of becoming the next Fred
It was film work, which included three small films including Kiss Me Kate (1953),
which helped Fosse realize his place was in theatre. His return to theatre brought on
Pajama Game (1954). This was Fosse’s big break, which catapulted his Broadway
choreographic career. Veteran director/playwright George Abbot took a chance on a
young man to choreograph his show. Fosse’s ground-breaking choreography and staging
in one of the numbers, “Steam Heat” was the talk of New York and a huge success.
Fosse’s signature movements he learned back in the burlesque and strip clubs, were now
mesmerizing Broadway audiences.
Fosse’s choreographic signature was a formula all his own. “Small groups of dancers
executing sometimes disjointed or torturously slow-motion movements drilled to the lift
of an eyebrow”, was how one dance magazine critic described it. At times he seemed to
take the human body apart and make each piece work separately. The choreographer
/dancer relationship was also different when it came to Fosse. He never taught anything
he didn’t know or research and always gave respect while expecting it in return.
After Pajama Game Fosse found himself in demand by countless Broadway
producers, directors and even choreographers. He worked alongside Abbot again on
Damn Yankees, which was his first of many shows with dance legend Gwen Verdon,
chiefly remembered for her performance “Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets”. He also
worked with Judy Holiday on Bells are Ringing and How to Succeed in Business Without
Really Trying with Robert Morse.
While the Choreographer/Producer relationships Fosse had established flourished so
did one of his Choreographer/Dancer relationships. After working on Damn Yankees
with Gwen Verdon she seemed to epitomize his signature movements and emotion.
She had dazzling long legs and double-jointed shoulders, which seemed to flow with
Fosse’s dance steps so easily. From then on Verdon was leading lady in almost all of
Fosse’s shows. After hits with New Girl in Town (1957) and Redhead (1959), one of
Broadway’s greatest partnerships got married in 1960.
By now, Fosse was directing as well as choreographing his shows. He became one of
those rare directors who could do it all and accomplish anything. During the course of the
year he also became a father when Gwen gave birth to their daughter Nicole. He staged
Blockbuster hits one after the other following Sweet Charity with Pippin (1972), Chicago
(1975) and Dancin’ (1978). These four shows alone notched up over 5,000 performances
between them, and Fosse finished up with a total of eight Tony’s.
While all of Fosse’s recognition was based on his Broadway work he also had a
successful career in movies. His choreography for My Sister Eileen (1955), The Pajama
Game (1957) and Damn Yankees (1958) was well received. However in 1969 Fosse was
the first man since Busby Burkeley to be given absolute control over a production with
the release of Sweet Charity. The result was a box-office nightmare, and for four years no
one in Hollywood wanted to know him. Fosse soon bounced back though, after a string
of directors had turned him down, he took charge of the movie Cabaret in 1972 which
took home an Academy Award. He soon became the first to win an Oscar, an Emmy and
a Tony Award, all in the same year. Later that year he took home an emmy for Liza
Minelli’s television special “Liza with a Z” and a Tony for the stage show Pippin.
After being shoved out of Hollywood Fosse rose to the top. Working with such stars
as Dustin Hoffman in Lenny (1974), Eric Roberts in Star 80 (1983) and Roy Scheider in
his (Fosse’s) autobiographical film All That Jazz (1979). However, the relentless
workload and stress conveyed in All That Jazz plagued Fosse in the long run.
His chain smoking caught up with him during work on Chicago when he suffered a
heart attack and his marriage to Verdon also ended in divorce. Just like his two prior ones
with dancers Mary Niles and Joan McCracken. Mirroring his auto-biographical movie,
All That Jazz (1979) Fosse himself died just moments before the curtain went up on the
triumphant revival of Sweet Charity in 1987.
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