How does one sum up one of the greatest dance choreographers of all time? – genius, excellence, innovative, maverick, artist, and perfectionist. Fosse revolutionized musical theater and musical films. He had a distinctive jazz dance style – unique, offbeat, sassy, quirky, cheeky, sexy, kinky, camp, earthy, interpretive, and sublime.
I am a dancer and love to watch Fosse movies and I have seen many Fosse musicals on the stage. His work is magical.
Bob Fosse (1927-1987) dancer, actor, singer, choreographer, writer, and director. Choreographer of 7 musical films and 15 Broadway musicals. Awards: 9 Tonys with 20 nominations, 1 Oscar with 4 nominations, 3 Emmys, 1 BAFTA, and 2 Golden Globe nominations.
Fosse began his professional dancing career in Chicago when he was 13 years old. He toured vaudeville, burlesque, USO theaters, and clubs. He was recruited into the Navy during World War Two. After the War he danced on stage in New York City and on television shows, doing choreography for Jerry Lewis. In 1953 he signed with MGM and danced in several musical films. Soon his reputation grew and he was hired for choreography on Broadway musicals in 1954. This is where he met Gwen Verdon, a leading song and dance star on Broadway. They were married in 1960. In the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s he worked on both films and stage productions.
Bob Fosse stage musicals get continual revivals on Broadway and the Westend in London, as well in touring shows and regional theaters in the U.S. and Canada. The 1999 Fosse Broadway musical won a Tony for Best Musical. The Fosse/ Verdon 8-episode TV mini-series aired of FX in 2019, it receives 17 Emmy nominations.
Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon
Fosse’s Dance Style
Bob Fosse was trained in classical, jazz, pop, and tap dancing. He developed his groundbreaking signature style and language which was sensual, provocative, and mesmerizing. He reshaped Broadway musical dancing. His early career in vaudeville and burlesque gave him a distinctive sexy and kinky dance style.
He liked to use props such as bowler hats, canes, and chairs. His distinctive moves included: slow angular sensuality, sexy bump and grind, precision and rigor, high energy, curved and rolled shoulders, hip rolls and thrusts, turned in knock knees and toes, sideways shuffling, finger snaps and wags, pauses and stops, and his famous jazz hands.
Some of his most distinctive dance scenes include:
- Hey Big Spender in Sweet Charity
- Mein Herr in Cabaret
- Steam Heat in The Pajama Game
- Rich Man’s Frug in Sweet Charity
- Nowadays in Chicago
- Cell Block Tango in Chicago
- Take Off With Us/Three Pas de Deux in All That Jazz
Some of Fosse’s quotes on dance include:
“Live like you’ll die tomorrow, work like you don’t need the money, and dance like nobody’s watching.”
“Don’t dance for the audience; dance for yourself.”
“Human beings are born with the instinct to express themselves through movement. Even before he could communicate with words, primitive man was dancing to the beat of his own heart.”
“The time to sing is when your emotional level is just too high to speak anymore, and the time to dance is when your emotions are just too strong to only sing about how you feel.”
“The energy doesn’t end at the hands. I want such intensity that it feels like light is streaming from every finger.”
“Dance expresses joy better than anything else.”
“Choreography is writing on your feet.”
“If you think you can do better, then do better. Don’t compete with anyone; just yourself.”
Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon
Gwen Verdon (1925-2000) was a co-choreographer with her husband Bob Fosse, she was his ‘Muse’. A major star of dance, singing, and acting on stage, film, and TV. She won 4 Tonys, 1 Grammy, 3 Emmy nominations, 1 BAFTA nomination, and 2 SAG nominations.
Verdon worked with leading chorographers Jack Cole, Michael Kidd, and Bob Fosse. She taught many Hollywood stars to dance for several films, including Jane Russell, Marilyn Monroe, Fernando Lamas, Lana Turner, Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable, and others.
The Fosse-Verdon choreography was legendary. They worked together on Broadway musicals Damned Yankees, Sweet Charity, Chicago, and Redhead. In film they worked together on Damned Yankees.
The Affairs of Dobie Gillis
Fosse was a dancer in the movie about young people in romantic affairs.
Film details: The Affairs of Dobie Gillis, 1953, Director: Don Weiss. Choreographer: Alex Romero. Dancers: Bobby Van, Debbie Reynolds, Bob Fosse, Barbara Ruick.
My Sister Eileen
Fosse and Tommy Rall have a dance-off competition between themselves, incredible dancing.
Film details: My Sister Eileen, 1955, Director: Richard Quine. Choreographer: Bob Fosse. Cast: Janet Leigh, Jack Lemmon, Betty Garrett, Bob Fosse, Tommy Rall.
Take Off With Us/ Three Pas De Deux
All That Jazz, musical film autobiography of Fosse. The dance scene Three Pas de Deux, is Fosse’s best artistic dance and most erotic choreography – incredible art, eye-popping sex and nudity, beautiful and kinky.
Film details: All That Jazz, 1979, director and choreography Bob Fosse, cast: Roy Schneider, Jessica Lange, Leland Palmer, Ann Reinking, Ben Vereen. Music by John Kander and Fred Ebb. 4 Oscars, 2 BAFTA.
From This Moment On
Kiss Me Kate, musical film in 1953, adapted from the 1948 stage musical with Cole Porter songs. The best dance is From This Moment On, with Ann Miller, Bob Fosse, Bobby Van, Tommy Rall, Carol Haney, and Jean Coyne. Bob Fosse and Carol Haney perform an unique jazz dance segment for the number.
Film details: Kiss Me Kate, 1955, Director: George Sidney. Choreography: Hermes Pan. Songs: Cole Porter. Cast: Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson, Ann Miller, Keenan Wynn, James Whitmore. Specialty dancers: Bob Fosse, Bobby Van, Tommy Rall, Carol Haney, Jean Coyne. Music by Cole Porter.
Two Lost Souls
Damn Yankees, musical film in 1958, adapted from the 1955 stage musical. The story is about a man who gives his soul to the Devil so the Washington Senators baseball team can win the pennant. The best dance is the Two Lost Souls scene with Gwen Verdon and Tab Hunter.
Film details: Damn Yankees, 1958, director Stanley Donen, choreography Bob Fosse, cast: Gwen Vernon, Tab Hunter, Ray Walston. Music by Richard Adler and Jerry Rose. Oscar nomination.
Broadway stage details: Damn Yankees, 1955, choreography Bob Fosse, stared Gwen Verdon in the lead role. Music by Richard Adler and Jerry Rose. Awards: 7 Tonys.
Cabaret film adaption of the 1966 stage musical about cabaret society in 1930s Germany during the rise of Nazism. The classic Fosse song and dance Mein Herr with Lisa Minelli is unique and quirky.
Film details: Cabaret, 1972, director and choreography Bob Fosse, cast: Liza Minelli, Michael York, Joel Grey. Music by John Kander and Fred Ebb. 8 Oscars, 7 BAFTAs, 3 Golden Globes.
Hey Big Spender
Sweet Charity musical film of the 1966 Broadway musical. Story about taxi dancers paid to dance with customers. Classic Fosse kinky and quirky song and dance number Hey Big Spender.
Film details: Sweet Charity, 1969, Bob Fosse director and choreography. Cast: Shirley MacLaine, Chita Rivera, Paula Kelly, Ricardo Montalban, John McMartin, Sammy Davis, Jr. Music by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields. 3 Oscar nominations.
Broadway stage details: Sweet Charity, 1966, Bob Fosse choreography, stared Gwen Verdon, 1 Tony with 9 nominations. Music by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields.
Rich Man’s Frug
Sweet Charity musical film. Quirky dance number Rich Man’s Frug.
Cell Block Tango
Chicago musical film based on Fosse’s Broadway musical. The story is about women in prison for murder during the Roaring Twenties in Chicago.
Film details: Chicago, 2002, director Rob Marshall, adapted Bob Fosse choreography. Cast: Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta Jones, Richard Gere, Taye Diggs, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly. Music by John Kander and Fred Ebb. 6 Oscars, 2 BAFTA, 3 Golden Globes.
Broadway stage details: Chicago, 1975, Bob Fosse director, choreography, and book, stared Gwen Verdon. Music by John Kander and Fred Ebb. 11 Tony nominations.
Nowadays/ Hot Honey Rag
From Chicago musical.
From The Pajama Game musical about workers setting up a union.
Film details: The Pajama Game, 1957, director Stanley Donen, choreography Bob Fosse, cast: Doris Day, John Raitt, Carole Haney. Music by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross.
Broadway stage details: The Pajama Game, 1954, Bob Fosse choreography, music by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, 3 Tony’s.
Fosse Choreographed Broadway Musicals
- The Pajama Game, 1954, choreographer, with Gwen Verdon
- Damn Yankees, 1955, choreographer, with Gwen Verdon
- Bells Are Ringing, 1956, choreographer
- New Girl In Town, 1958 choreographer,
- Redhead, 1959, director, choreographer, with Gwen Verdon
- The Conquering Hero, 1961, choreographer
- How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, 1961, choreographer
- Little Me, 1962, director, choreographer
- Pleasures and Palaces, 1965, director, choreographer
- Sweet Charity, 1966, director, choreographer, with Gwen Verdon
- Pippin’, 1972, director, choreographer, book
- Liza, 1972, director
- Chicago, 1975, director, choreographer, book, with Gwen Verdon
- Dancin’, 1978, director, choreographer
- Big DeaL, 1986, director, choreographer
- The Affairs of Dobie Gillis, 1953, actor, dancer
- Kiss Me Kate, 1953, actor, dancer
- My Sister Eileen, 1955, actor, dancer, choreographer
- The Pajama Game, 1957, chorographer
- Damn Yankees, 1958, choreographer, actor, with Gwen Verdon
- Sweet Charity, 1969, director, choreographer
- Cabaret, 1972, director, choreographer
- Liza With a Z, 1972, TV, director
- The Little Prince, 1974, choreographer, actor
- Lenny, 1974, director, actor
- Thieves, 1977, actor
- All That Jazz, 1979, director, choreographer, writer
- Star 80, 1983, director, writer
- All His Jazz: The Life and Death of Bob Fosse, Martin Gottfried, Bantam, 2003.
- Bob Fosse’s Broadway, Margry Beddow, Heineman, 1999.
- Fosse, Sam Wasson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
- Razzle Dazzle: The Life and Work of Bob Fosse, Kevin Grubb, St. Martin’s Press, 1989.