Book Review: “Fosse” by Sam Wasson

Dec 14 • Blog, Book Reviews • 3809 Views • No Comments on Book Review: “Fosse” by Sam Wasson

Synopsis from Amazon:

More than a quarter-century after his death, Bob Fosse’s fingerprints on popular culture remain indelible. The only person ever to win Oscar, Emmy, and Tony awards in the same year, Fosse revolutionized nearly every facet of American entertainment, forever marking Broadway and Hollywood with his iconic style — hat tilted, fingers splayed — that would influence generations of performing artists. Yet in spite of Fosse’s innumerable achievements, no accomplishment ever seemed to satisfy him, and offstage his life was shadowed in turmoil and anxiety.

Now, bestselling author Sam Wasson unveils the man behind the swaggering sex appeal, tracing Fosse’s untold reinventions of himself over a career that would spawn The Pajama Game, Cabaret,Pippin, All That Jazz, and Chicago, one of the longest-running Broadway musicals ever. Drawing on a wealth of unpublished material and hundreds of sources — friends, enemies, lovers, and collaborators, many of whom have never spoken publicly about Fosse before — Wasson illuminates not only Fosse’s prodigious professional life, but also his close and conflicted relationships with everyone from Liza Minnelli to Ann Reinking to Jessica Lange and Dustin Hoffman. Wasson also uncovers the deep wounds that propelled Fosse’s insatiable appetites — for spotlights, women, and life itself. In this sweeping, richly detailed account, Wasson’s stylish, effervescent prose proves the ideal vehicle for revealing Bob Fosse as he truly was — after hours, close up, and in vibrant color.

My Thoughts:

One of the biggest problems with a book about a dancer/choreographer is that no matter how colourful the descriptions (and Wasson REALLY likes description…) you can’t see the performances. I found myself going over and over again to YouTube to look for clips so that I could actually see what was being described. I almost wished that this had been done as a documentary, rather than a written biography.

My background – in addition to writing – is in theatre, and my love for Broadway knows no limits, and so I’ve been a fan of Bob Fosse’s work, and his style, for years. Yet it amazed me how much I didn’t know: the projects he worked on that I hadn’t heard of; the projects he worked on and then abandoned; and especially, the heart of a performer who wanted to be a star, and had to settle for being a star choreographer (something that would have been an oxymoron before Fosse came along) and director.

Bob Fosse was a complex man, and yet at the heart of him, he was a frightened little boy, I think: a womanizer, a genius, a tyrant, a perfectionist, and yet loved by everyone – even, apparently, those who hated him.

This book is a worthwhile read for anyone who loves Broadway, movies, or dance. While it could easily have been trimmed by at least 100 pages, just by doing away with some of the unnecessary descriptions, it is still a fascinating read. The book begins with the party thrown in Fosse’s honour after his death, which was dictated by his will – he was still directing even from the afterlife. It then backtracks to his childhood, but the chapters are titled “Sixty Years”, “Fifty Years”, “Fifteen Years”, etc., in a countdown to his death. It may seem like a cheap trick, and yet given Fosse’s obsession with his own mortality it also seems strangely appropriate. By the time I got to the chapter entitled “One Hour and Fifty-Three Minutes”, my heart was in my throat, knowing what was going to happen.

The ending is strangely off-putting, though, as if nothing mattered after his death: there is no “what happened to” the major players in Fosse’s life, no discussion of his lasting impact. It’s as if the world stopped at 7:23pm on September 23, 1987, and I found that unfortunate.

One other quibble is that although video obviously isn’t possible in a book, it would have been nice to at least have some still photos from his various productions and personal life.

Overall though, a fascinating story of a man who used his own limitations to create something the world had never seen before.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Buy it on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and Indigo

And while you’re at it, check out some Fosse videos:

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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