Magazine article The Spectator

Routine Fosse

Magazine article The Spectator

Routine Fosse

Article excerpt


Fosse (Prince of Wales)

Swan Lake (Dominion)

The Servant to Two Masters (Young Vic)

A Lump in My Throat (Grace, Battersea)

This is where I get high-kicked out of the Broadway Musicals Appreciation Society, maybe even the Critics Circle itself. Precisely when, how and indeed why did Bob Fosse cease being one of the top halfdozen postwar Broadway choreographers and become Fosse, a man around whose memory people now dance as worshipfully and repetitively as if he had personally invented the Great White Way itself ?

It helps, presumably, to have a widow (Gwen Verdon) and an ex-mistress (Ann Reinking) who, great dancers in their own right, are prepared apparently to devote the rest of their working lives to the ritual celebration of Bob's big-band memory, and to turn his choreography into an international franchise, Broadway Bob's Ballet, knees and elbows while you wait, Quite soon we shall doubtless be inaugurating the Royal Bob Fosse School of Dancing, with a grant from the Prime Minister and a resident home in the disused Millennium Dome. But what, apart from elbows and knees and tilted bowler hats, did Fosse himself actually give the musical theatre to justify this slavish attention to his incredibly repetitive and predictable dance routines?

Nobody is suggesting that Fosse was not once a towering figure in the choreography of the Broadway musical, even if he was as neurotic about his own short stature as about so much else; it was Fosse who reinvented dancing as a form of nervous breakdown. But have we ever had a show devoted to the choreography of Agnes de Mille, or Bob Avian, or George Balanchine, or Michael Bennett, or Gower Champion, or Gillian Lynne, or Michael Kidd, or Herb Ross, or Tommy Tune, or Onna White? And are we seriously maintaining that he was more significant, more influential, more talented than any of the above? If not, why Fosse? Even if we were agreed that he deserved nearly three hours of our undivided attention, there is a major problem with this reverent compilation, which is that if you take away all the plot, characters and songs from these old musicals then you are left with nothing but dance routines which look much too alike when hatched together back to back and, relentlessly, elbow to knee.

There are ony two moments wnen tis show actually leaps into life; one when they do the 'Steam Heat' which was Fosse's calling card and his finest ten minutes, and the other when they do 'Mr Bojangles', the only number he ever choreographed that had real drama and heart and told a story. Who died and made Bob Fosse God? Bob Fosse did; but his heaven will, I think, soon collapse of its own accord. On Broadway, ghosts have nearly as rough a time as angels.

It was also a little unfortunate to have Fosse open the night after the return to the West End of a vastly more innovative and intriguing contemporary choreographer, Matthew Bourne, whose genius has always been very simple to explain: he takes great ballets and turns them into greater theatre. Swan Lake is now back at the Dominion for a farewell season after five years in which it has triumphed everywhere from Sadler's Wells through the West End and Broadway to California, winning a dozen major stage awards along the way.

Adam Cooper is still the astonishingly sexy Chief Swan, while Isabel Mortimer and Vicky Evans opened wonderfully as the sexually predatory Queen and her son's wildly unsuitable girlfriend. …

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