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  • A Turn of the Wrist and the Pelvis
  • Gina Masucci MacKenzie (bio)
Big Deal: Bob Fosse and Dance in the American Musical
Kevin Winkler
Oxford University Press
368 Pages; Cloth, $29.95

Winkler's new romp through the history of Fosse's dance life and work is an enormously fun read for theatre lovers and theatre scholars. While a little light on comparative analysis of other works, and the dance theory that informed Fosse's work, Big Deal: Bob Fosse and Dance in the American Musical is a great read.

Winkler begins the text with a quick glossary of dance terms, sort of like a PowerPoint on the first day of musical theatre class. For any reader whose practical experience with dance stopped in the third grade or whose theatre life is focused on vocal or drama performance, this proves incredibly useful. Limited to terms important to Fosse's lexicon and imagination, the glossary levels the playing field for all readers and helps with the visualization process the reader is lead to engage in while thinking about the many numbers and shows described.

The introduction then sets up Fosse as "the muscle" or driving force of every production in which he was a part. The tight focus of the book then reinforces that concept, by making Fosse "the muscle" of the text too. As Winkler reminds his readers, "the muscle" is the term applied to any artist or position who holds the most control over a production. It could be the star actor, producer, director, or in Fosse's case, choreographer, later to be followed up with directing and writing credits.

While this is not a traditional biography, Winkler does sprinkle the text with some important tidbits about Fosse's life. Unlike many dancers turned Broadway stars, Fosse was encouraged to perform from an early age. He completed a stint in the Navy but escaped the horror of war, joining shorty after V-day. His signature dance style, described so aptly as "cocky, indolent and sexual" was evident in his work as early as age twnety-five. The trajectory of his career then served to enhance and lay bare that style further, but he never deviated from it. Like the focus exhibited in his choreography, Winkler's text stays concentrated on the linear course of Fosse's work, from his first number in the 1953 film version of Kiss Me, Kate to his last Broadway show, Big Deal (1986). The book glosses over in depth analysis of both his personal and business relationships. The reader does not get salacious details of the dissolutions of his relationships with Joan McCracken, Gwen Verdon, or Anne Reinking. Instead, we learn simply that each woman was, in turn, his muse, and then when the romances ended, the professional relationships were able to continue with great success. Winkler also does not provide tales of backstage or courtroom dramas over performance choices, [End Page 9] rights, or royalties. Since "drama" is usually the crux of books about celebrities, Winkler's book is unusual in that he avoids the temptation to linger on those scandalous moments. In many ways, such avoidance is refreshing, as the book does not read as an episode of reality TV. However, because discussions of such important life events, such as the break of his romance with Gwen Verdon, is handled nearly as an aside, the reader wonders if Winkler does enough justice to the intersection of personal life and career development. Without crossing into gratuitous gossip, it would have been nice to have a few more biographical insights.

Winkler, instead of focusing on life events, uses musical numbers as the sign posts of Fosse's life. In his discussion of "Steam Heat," Verdon's anachronistic set piece in The Pajama Game, Winkler explains that this number, a trio for Verdon and two ensemble members, becomes a theme with variations in all forthcoming Fosse shows. It is in this number that Fosse first references Charlie Chaplin's physical presence and gives audience members dance that is delightfully ironic. His choreography, in this early example and throughout his career, is simultaneously...


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pp. 9-10
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