Ann Reinking Pays Tribute to Bob FosseDate: 20 January 2000
The multi award-winning revival of Chicago hit London like a steam train in 1997, and now the man behind the moves that made it - legendary choreographer Bob Fosse - is being remembered in another Broadway transfer. WOS correspondent Nick Smurthwaite talks to the show's co-director and choreographer and Fosse's one-time protege Ann Reinking.
Without the success of Chicago, now in its third year in the West End, it's unlikely producer Andre Ptaszynski would ever have risked importing Fosse, the award-winning Broadway tribute to the legendary Bob Fosse, director-choreographer of Little Me, Pippin, Sweet Charity, Dancin', Chicago and, most famously, the film of Cabaret, starring Liza Minelli.
Fosse's name has become synonymous with dirty dancing - think of the sluts on parade in Sweet Charity, the supple slappers of the Kit-Kat Club in Cabaret, the sultry sirens of Chicago - and he was fortunate enough to spend his entire working life surrounded by eager acolytes with heavenly bodies.
Ann Reinking was just 22 when she first fell under Fosse's spell. 'I went to audition for Pippin and it honestly changed my life. It was the most incredible audition I'd ever been to. Bob was just so intelligent and articulate and hands on. He had us doing improvisation, mime, dance, comedy, the lot. I remember thinking it didn't matter if I didn't get the job, this was just the best time I'd ever had.
'People really loved him. He had tremendous loyalty to his performers. If Bob took you under his wing, you'd work with him for the rest of your career.' Reinking not only got the job in Pippin, but went on to star in Fosse's 1978 Broadway hit Dancin' and his semi-autobiographical film, All That Jazz, a year later. Her other notable success in the 70s was the revival of Sweet Charity, in the role originally created by Fosse's wife, Gwen Verdon.
'There is an unspoken law in the dance world that you pass on what you know. When Gwen taught me the title role of Sweet Charity it was like Ulanova teaching a novice Giselle because it had depended so much on Gwen's artistry and imagination.'
The friendship that developed between the two women was all the more poignant because, two years after Fosse and Verdon separated, Reinking became the new love of Fosse's life.
'There was never any problem with Gwen. It's just an accepted thing in the dance world that your personal life doesn't interfere with your working life. You keep the two things separate. So when Bob and I split after six years, we still remained great friends and we continued working together until he died in 1987.' Years later, when a Broadway revival of Chicago was mooted by Reinking (as choreographer) and director Walter Bobbie, the first person they turned to was Gwen Verdon.
'It was important to me to have Gwen's blessing because I wanted to be faithful to Bob's original. Gwen and Bob had jointly owned the rights to the play on which the musical was based for years, but it was when Bob and I were together in the early 70s that he actually began working on it. It was a time when Patti Hearst and Charles Manson were appearing on the front cover of every magazine, glamourising criminal behaviour. Even though it's a fun show and you're charmed by these people, Bob always wanted audiences to feel an itch somewhere in the back of their minds that said, 'This isn't right.''
What makes it all the more gratifying for Reinking is that she has been able to recruit some cast members from her own Broadway Theatre Project, a summer training programme which she set up with her associate Debbie McWaters ten years ago. The project promotes what Reinking refers to as 'the triple threat', ie performers who are equally adept at acting, dancing and singing, precisely the qualities Bob Fosse demanded of performers in all his shows.
Beginning with a summer school in Florida, where Reinking was living at the time, the Project now reaches out to students from twenty-three American states, as well as Canada. 'It's very intensive, you eat, sleep and drink the craft of musical theatre. But I believe passionately that musical theatre is an American art form that must be kept alive, and it's my duty as one of its practitioners to pass on what I know to the next generation.'
Fosse opens at the Prince of Wales Theatre on 8 February, previews from January 24 2000.