Robert Louis Fosse Essay Research Paper Jimmy

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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