Sam Wasson’s biography about the great dancer/choreographer/director Bob Fosse gave me the same sort of exuberant rush I get when I watch dance movies. This fast-paced, fascinating read (even at over 600 pages) also got me thinking about why we crave stories involving intense, often excruciating physical struggle in the pursuit of art ... Wasson’s book does not shy away from the salacious; this is a fun biography, but he manages never to stray into tacky, Kitty Kelley territory ... After finishing Wasson’s book, you feel like you’ve been steeped in a life, enveloped in a whirlwind of jazz, sex, struggle, song and dance, and one man’s quest to break things open with his art — convention, sameness, phoniness, tradition. Fosse is a book celebrating a life, even though, as Wasson writes, Fosse 'had the jazzman’s crush on burning out.'
...[a] fascinating and exhaustive biography ... Fosse was as vital a character in his life as in his work, and Mr. Wasson accordingly narrates as if his book were a novel, a Faustian tale in which the protagonist is so gifted that he is bound to succeed even without supernatural help. But then, Fosse was the driver of the bargain as well as its victim ... Mr. Wasson has taken complete control of his subject. His catalog of interviewees, which allows him to reconstruct events and conversations in real time, includes an astonishing number of Fosse's colleagues and confidants. And his writing style mediates between the authoritative and the hip ... This book knows its subject's loves and his friends and his needs and, ultimately, his despair
Mr. Wasson is a smart and savvy reporter, and his book abounds with colorful firsthand tales ... Fosse picks up steam, just as its subject did, when he hits the big time ... It heats up further when he meets Gwen Verdon, who became his third wife and most stellar dancing partner ... Fosse sprawls with details of each production. But it is less successful at conveying what the finished works were like ... A tighter book would have been welcome, though it might not have had room for the feuding and jealously that Mr. Wasson captures so sharply ... Whoever Fosse was and whatever his work meant, Mr. Wasson’s book is required reading for anyone eager to understand his brand of — to use a term that appears here constantly, and can’t be outdone — razzle-dazzle. And to see through his darkness
The only thing that could have been better than Sam Wasson's page-turning, comprehensively rendered biography of choreographer-director Bob Fosse would have been Fosse's own memoir ... At nearly 600 pages, Fosse is certainly big, if not lithe. And Wasson's own narrative style has a jazzy, discursive and relentless energy well aligned with its subject ... [a] riveting show...
It’s that turn of phrase, 'harvesting the lightning that slays and illustrates so beautifully the thing separating this biography from that great big pile of others surrounding it—it is just so wonderfully well written. In addition, there is the aforementioned research. In this the author is scrupulous. The work is impeccable. Six hundred pages of insight and information and not an edit to be found. Six hundred pages that, in telling the life of Fosse, seem hardly enough. And oh, it is amazingly well written ... It is, quite simply, breathtaking work. A suitable finale to one of the best biographies in recent years. Sam Wasson in the pages of Fosse has indeed managed to harvest the lightning and has used it to bring both light and heat. Fosse is a substantial, entertaining, and illuminating work, one that leaves its reader wondering, as Fosse’s own audiences used to do, what Mr. Wasson could possibly do next in order to top this.
Fosse is filled with the kind of inside detail that comes of substantial research, and vivid descriptions that turn the research into a sort of movie in your head. All the way from little Bobby Fosse's elementary school disappointment when the spotlight faded on him, right through to the moment when Gwen Verdon, the love of his life, cradled Fosse's head on her lap on a D.C. sidewalk, just blocks from an audience he was at that very moment razzle-dazzling to beat the band.
...[a] scintillating biography ... Embedded within this exhilarating, appalling portrait is a revealing account of Fosse's dance innovations... There's an enormous amount of scholarship here, yet the story never drags, so adroitly does [Wasson] blend his material into a fluent narrative around evocative scenes where character emerges novelistically.
...Wasson...has amassed a mountain of data about Fosse but has sculpted it into something moving and memorable. With chapters whose titles remind us of his approaching death...the author both increases the dramatic irony of the dancer’s days and reminds us continually of life’s evanescence ... Graceful prose creates a richly detailed and poignant portrait, simultaneously inspiring and depressing.