"Magic to Do" (Pippin) - Ben Vereen and Company
You know you have an odd family when your six year old can identify which Bob Fosse musical a song comes from: “This one’s from All that Jazz...no, actually it’s from Pippin.” (We did skip over inappropriate parts of the musicals – which means we watched only selected scenes from All that Jazz and Pippin).
Bob Fosse didn’t do happy musicals – Cabaret has the specter of Nazi Germany hovering over lost souls in a twilight society; Sweet Charity gets dumped on yet again; Chicago’s heroines?...okay, main characters compete for the torrid limelight; All that Jazz shows a hero that, in Ben Vereen’s words at the end, “This cat was never nobody’s friend.” Pippin is his happiest musical, and it’s supposed to end with the main character incinerating himself.
I’m not generally a fan of really down, depressing stories or ones overly drenched in sex. But, there is something about the artistry of Bob Fosse’s work that makes me love it, even though I find it hard to explain.
The major part of the beauty of his work is that his choreography is fantastic – it doesn’t look like anyone else’s. Some of the characteristic moves – the way the shoulders, arms and hands are held, come from physical problems Fosse himself had and incorporated into his moves. One of the places that this is the most striking is in the little piece he choreographed for Kiss Me Kate - which, I think, was his first choreography for a Hollywood musical. All of the other dancers have been doing the usual expansive Broadway/Golden-Age-of-Hollywood-Musicals type dancing, and then he comes out and drips off of a lamppost. You know that something totally new is happening.
Kiss Me Kate
All that Jazz and Pippin are my favorites. The main character in All that Jazz is close to the bottom of a downward spiral. Pippin has war, conspiracy, and a parricide/regicide, along with the possible immolation at the end. But, even when the stories are not happy, I still enjoy his artistry. Some of my favorite scenes in Pippin are with Ben Vereen – the songs “The Right Track” and “Glory” (picture below). He’s one of those actors that you can’t imagine anyone ever following in that part, and, indeed, Bob Fosse created the part of the Leading Player for Ben Vereen (That part is often split into two characters when Pippin is revived).
My very favorite scene in any Fosse musical, however is "Everything Old is New Again" in All that Jazz. Joe Gideon is the main character and is based on Bob Fosse himself. His girlfriend and daughter do a special dance, just for him, to "Everything Old." Ann Reinking is at her leggy best, and it's one of the few sweet numbers in any of his musicals (pictures on a previous post: Moomin Light: "On Broadway"- George Benson).
If you're interested in learning more about Bob Fosse, there's an excellent biography, All his Jazz by Martin Gottfried.