Author: Sam Wasson (Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.)
Genre: Nonfiction (Biography)
Page Count: 723
The Basics: Fosse gives readers an in-depth look at the thousands of pieces that made up both Bob Fosse the musical-theater legend and Bob Fosse the man: the dance style that has often been imitated but will never be duplicated; the pills and the cigarettes; the innumerable women; the hunger for the spotlight; the manic-depressive drive and perfectionism; the narcissism and self-loathing; and his complicated love affair with showbiz that influenced every career choice he ever made. Wasson’s comprehensive portrait of Fosse is also a comprehensive portrait of the American musical—from its roots in vaudeville, to its many revolutions on both stage and screen, through its dark days in the 1980s (when years went by without a Tony Award given for Best Choreography). Opening with Fosse’s memorial, Wasson then flashes back to his subject’s earliest years, using each chapter to bring us closer and closer to his death. This technique gives the biography the feel of a well-crafted novel, and the book’s masterful weaving of style and substance would have made its subject—the ultimate dance style icon—proud.
Strengths: Sam Wasson is my current favorite nonfiction writer because of his ability to take one subject and seamlessly show how it’s reflective of a cultural movement much larger than itself. In Fifth Avenue, Five A.M. Wasson showed how Breakfast at Tiffany’s was much more than just a film; it was a major touchstone for the feminist movement in America. And in Fosse, Wasson linked the life of Bob Fosse to the collective life of American musical theater, creating not just a definitive look at Fosse’s life and career but a definitive look at an entire medium of American art. To see the way Fosse’s beginnings in vaudeville, his rise to fame in the early days of Broadway, his growing cynicism, and his death paralleled the rise, success, and fall of the American musical through the 1980s was nothing short of revelatory. I picked up this book expecting to learn about my favorite choreographer and the director of one of my favorite films (Cabaret), and I ended up learning incredible amounts of information about a genre that has always been close to my heart. It was a pleasant surprise of the highest order, to say the least.