60 Books in 2019 #18: Fosse By Sam Wassan

I love Broadway musicals.

Of all the things I love, I count it as my first love. One of my earliest memories is being allowed to stay up past my bedtime to watch West Side Story on TV and being completely enraptured. A few months later, my mother took me to see one of my babysitters in a high school production of Bye Bye Birdie, and that’s when I realized could sing and dance in front of people.

Like almost all theater people, I have my Fosse memories. Theater Camp versions of “All That Jazz” and “Cell Block Tango.” A high school version Sweet Charity, and rehearsing “I’m A Brass Band,” ad nauseum. (Katie was Charity, she was very good.) Playing Berthe in Pippin opposite my oldest friend. Insisting on “Magic To Do,” opening a revue I was masterminding for Tom Foolery.

There’s no one in the history of theater like Bob Fosse, really no one in the history of entertainment. A director, performer, writer and of course choreographer, anyone even marginally familiar with his work has immediate associations.

I picked up Fosse to feed my obsession after watching Fosse/Verdon (Finale tonight! Then onto the movies…I haven’t watched Charity, Cabaret or All That Jazz in ages, and I’ve never watched Lenny or Star 80.) knowing that this was it’s main source. Learning that it was written by Sam Wassan who wrote 5th Avenue At 5 AM probably my favorite show business book, made it that much sweeter to pick up.

Reading a good biography is like falling into another world for me. And Wassan is a great biographer, he makes you a part of Fosse whirling show biz world and his twisted hurting psyche. Using the ingenious device of counting down from his birth to the day of his death, Wassan provides the kind of ticking clock and rhythm that the man himself likely would have approved of.

And while there’s glitter, there’s also sleaze. Bob Fosse wasn’t really a great guy. He was mercurial, a perfectionist, an alcoholic and a womanizer. But oh God, the work. Excusing bad men who make good art is an age old conundrum, but seriously, there’s not much in this world I’d trade Chicago for, would you?

That seems to be Wassan’s point, by the way. Everyone who knew the man seemed to think that what he created was worth the hassle. And that’s something worth examining. Gwen Verdon. Anne Reinking. Nicole Fosse. Steven Schwartz. Fred Kander. Joe Ebb. Liza Minelli. All of them.

You can hear the drums and the band’s all throughout Fosse and that’s what makes it matter to me.

Up next is To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. It’s to be a summer of fluff and love for me, reading wise, I think. And this is how we’re starting it.

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