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Book Review, Current Issue, Vol. 31 No.3

Big Deal: Bob Fosse and Dance in the American Musical

Big Deal: Bob Fosse and Dance in the American Musical. Kevin Winkler. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018; Pp. 368.

Big Deal: Bob Fosse and Dance in the American Musical by Kevin Winkler offers educators, students, and Bob Fosse enthusiasts a history of the choreographer’s early life, creative influences, apprenticeships, and Broadway and film successes. Winkler interrogates how Fosse’s passionate and often tumultuous relationship with collaborators, personal partners, and the musical theatre genre, in general, came together to create his indelible style and legacy. Big Deal is part of the Broadway Legacies series edited by Geoffrey Block that includes Carol Oja’s Bernstein Meets Broadway: Collaborative Art in a Time of War and Todd Decker’s Show Boat: Performing Race in an American Musical. Big Deal is the second book in the series devoted to a choreographer, the first being Agnes de Mille: Telling Stories in Broadway Dance by Kara Anne Gardner. Prior to his twenty-year engagement as a curator and archivist for the New York Public Library, Winkler had a career as a professional dancer, and he danced in Fosse’s 1982 Broadway revival of Little Me. His bodily understanding of dance and keen attention to historical detail bring a fresh perspective to Fosse’s work and illuminate why Fosse privileged the dancing body above all else.

To achieve this analysis, Winkler’s book traces Fosse’s career chronologically across three trajectories: the transformation of the Broadway musical over forty years, the women in his life and their influence on his aesthetic, and “the social and political climate of his era” (2). The first chapter provides an overview of Fosse’s dance training and early performance career that shaped his style. Winkler succinctly explains, “While his later work could display touches of sentimentality and pathos, it was the triangulation of vaudeville, burlesque, and nightclubs that formed the basis of Fosse’s aesthetic DNA” (17). Chapter two encapsulates Fosse’s apprenticeships as a Broadway choreographer, including his work and relationship with Jerome Robbins. Winkler is very insightful in this area as he details how Robbins watched over Fosse and, in turn, Fosse took on this role later in his career with other emerging choreographers. In chapter three, Winkler analyzes how Damn Yankees (1955) and Redhead (1959) established Fosse and his lifetime muse Gwen Verdon as forces on Broadway. He then charts Fosse’s quest for total control over a production through discussions of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961), Sweet Charity (1966), and Pippin (1972) in the next two chapters.

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