THE BOOK SHELF: "Fosse," "West End Broadway," "Mama Rose's Turn" and The Golden Apple

By Steven Suskin
08 Dec 2013

Wasson follows the director/choreographer as he leaves Verdon for a parade of women, many of them Fosse dancers; he also demonstrates how Fosse seemed comfortable not with his countless women but only with a small circle of male writers that included Paddy Chayefsky, Neil Simon and Herb Gardner.

There is a lot to be said about Fosse's film career, with the failed screen version of Sweet Charityfollowed by the ground-breaking "Cabaret," "Lenny" and "All That Jazz," and Wasson is in his element discussing these. I, as a reader, am far more interested in the Broadway Fosse. The author does a very good job in this area, although with a somewhat less authoritative voice; he doesn't seem to question anecdotes related to him in interviews 50 years after the fact and at times appears to be reporting other people's opinions rather than his own. (He acknowledges that he has been highly influenced by the writings of Ethan Mordden, and it shows.) He also tends towards hyperbole, such as his description of New York City when Fosse received his discharge in 1946: "There was a theatre with a big Broadway musical on every corner, and on every corner there was a bevy of chorus girls looking for fun." Every corner?

Even so, we learn a lot more about Fosse and his shows than we knew before, in great part due to the contributed memories of a bevy of Fosse dancers. We also get a clear picture of Fosse as a tortured, self-destructive genius who never quite believed that he was as good as he truly was.

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Two years back, I expressed great delight in Adrian Wright's "A Tanner's Worth of Tune" (which you can read about here). There are numerous sources for facts and details about Broadway musicals, but all too few places to find information about West End musicals. Whenever I have questions about 20th-century musical theatre in London, I first turn to Wright. Now, Wright has given us a companion: "West End Broadway: The Golden Age of the American Musical in London" [Boydell]. As implied, this gives us detailed reports on the London productions of Broadway shows from 1939 through 1972. Were they close copies or hazy reproductions? Did they succeed, or not, and why? How were they received, and what was the context and competition of the time? Also included are revivals and — most invaluably — shows written by Americans which never reached Broadway. It can be mighty difficult to find information on these titles, and here it is. The last year covered by the book includes two of them: Harold Rome's Gone with the Wind (with a libretto by Horton Foote, of all people) and Charles Strouse and Lee Adams' I and Albert. "West End Broadway" is perfect for browsing, packed as it is with things we never knew, and packed with photos as well.

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