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Episode 28

GUESS WHO I MET?

Eight o'clock in the morning,
Monday, July 20, 1998
Breakfast at the Polish Tea Room

"Mind if I join you?"

Of course not. Sit down. Would you like some breakfast?

"Maybe coffee and a bagel."

Gregor, did you get that? Thanks. So, how was your weekend? Were you able to relax for a change?

"Yep. Pretty quiet actually. Annie went up to Connecticut to visit friends. She'll be back this morning for our meeting."

Good. How about you?

"I slept most of Thursday and Friday."

I'm not surprised. You needed the rest.

"You were right. I did. I read that book Saturday. I wasn't sure that I understood what you were getting at about adding dance to Neverland, even after finishing it. However, I got sort of a lucky break Saturday night when my air conditioner died."

How so?

"It was too hot to sleep. I decided to take a long walk to think about things and ended up meeting a choreographer. He directed and choreographed Cabaret. I hated to admit I hadn't seen it yet."

You met Rob?

"Yea. We walked and talked for hours. He explained a lot of stuff to me about how dancing fits into shows that I never knew before. I think I understand what you're looking for now."

Excellent.

"Sunday I got a new air conditioner. That was a nice piece Frank did on the theatre and Miss Paige in the Trib."

Call him and thank him. He asked where you were at the reception. I told him you were working on a new project and would be back in circulation soon enough.

"I'll call him this afternoon. Oh, and I finally got around to seeing the Cabaret matinee, too. That's what really brought together a lot of what he was saying about using dance. Although, I kinda think there is more to it than we had time to talk about. I mean, integrating it into the scenes I understood. But Cabaret doesn't really use all that much dance, does it?"

A fair amount. Not as much as some shows. So, what have you figured out? What's your approach going to be?

"The first thing we talked about was pacing and getting the sequence of scenes right. He explained how they used to put together high quality vaudeville."

Vaudeville?

"The pattern, how they would sequence the various acts."

Which is?

"Start with comedy. Get the audience laughing and feeling good."

That's always a safe bet.

"But don't let ‘em laugh too much. You know, that thing about always leave ‘em wanting more."

True.

"Then go to a romantic scene. After the laughter, when they are feeling good, let ‘em catch their breath and get emotionally involved with the characters. He said it's best to start off with some sort of obvious flirtation. Let the audience know the lead character is seriously taken with somebody. But, don't let the object of his desires realize what's going on yet. Let the audience know before the character realizes what's going on."

It's working so far.

"Then hit the audience with something serious, something dramatic. First you let the audience laugh to get ‘em on your side, then you quiet them down and get ‘em emotionally involved, then you toss in a complication, something serious and unexpected. Set the hook and really pull ‘em into the story. The first time you do this, don't let it be about the romance. But, after the first time, the serious complication can be about anything going on."

And then?

"And then you do it again. That's the way to sequence the scenes for the rest of the show. Comedy, romance, drama, comedy, romance, drama, on and on. At the end you resolve whatever has become the big dramatic question and then you stop. You can add a short comedy tag onto the resolution if you want to. What do you think?"

Well, it's not the only way to sequence a show, but, for a musical it's one of the best.

"He said the problem with Neverland is that most of the scenes - the way the base material is right now - are too long to let you sequence them this way. But, that isn't really a problem because - "

Wait a minute. He knows the base material? He's read Neverland?

"He seemed to know everything about it. I figured maybe you sent him a copy of the stories."

No, I didn't. That's odd. I wonder how he got them?

"Maybe Miss Paige sent them to him?"

She would have told me.

"Anyway, the scene length isn't a problem because we can break a lot of the scenes up into smaller scenes and put them in the right order. And the scenes we can't shorten we just write following the basic comedy-romance-drama pattern to make them fit the sequence."

I'll buy that.

"As for pacing, he said there are definite time limits on each segment. At the top of the show, each segment should be no longer than three minutes. Open with three minutes of comedy, then go to three minutes or less of romance, then three minutes or less of drama and so on. That doesn't sound like much, does it?"

Three minutes on stage can seem like a year.

"You can gradually let the segments get a little longer over the course of the evening. But, even at the end, no segment should be more than five minutes. If you do a comedy tag, it should only be like 15 to 30 seconds."

I agree with all of this. Think you can fit the book and music to the pattern?

"I think I can. Once you know what you're doing and why, everything tends to fall into place, doesn't it?"

Hopefully.

"Wait! I just realized something. That's why songs in a musical tend to run only three to four minutes, isn't it?"

And why the songs need to further the action. Once you've got the pattern up and running and working for you, you can't stop it for any reason. If you do, you probably won't be able to get it going again because the audience won't trust you anymore.

"He also suggested we think about spotting the songs in Neverland the way they did it in Cabaret."

Explain.

"Since most of Neverland plays out against and is involved with Broadway musicals, we should stage most of the songs as period musical production numbers, but write them to comment on what's happening in the story."

That's what I've been telling you to do from the start.

"Okay, so now I understand why. And outside of the musical frame for the songs, when we want the characters to sing, set the scene so it would be logical that they would start singing."

That isn't as difficult to do as it sounds.

"I know. He explained that thing about when a character gets too involved and excited to speak he starts to sing, and when he gets too emotional to sing he starts to dance. When you think about it, it's a natural progression. The only hard thing about putting Neverland together this way is making it all seem natural, letting one thing flow into the next."

That's true of any show. What did he say about the dance numbers?

"He loves the fact that our lead character, Billy Finn, is a dancer. He said that justifies him expressing himself in dance. He said, because of that, half our problems with integrating dance into the show are already solved. Billy holds a lot of stuff inside - he doesn't communicate his feelings very well in words - so it's only natural that, when he was feeling something intensely he would burst into dance. We just have to write the scenes to set-up what he's dancing about, what he's feeling, so the audience understands what his dancing means."

Bingo.

"All the other dancing in the show will be in the musical production numbers. Here the dance will support and emphasize what the song lyrics are saying. It's simple, really."

Most complicated things are, once you understand them.

"So, am I on the right track?"

Yes, you are. Do you understand now why I said you kids need to completely start over with the songs you are writing?

"As much as I hate to admit it, yes."

It should be easier now that you have a pattern to fit the show to.

"It's all about setting limits, isn't it? I mean, before, when we could go anyplace and do anything, all of the individual songs were good, but they didn't fit together. Consciously writing to this pattern is going to be harder, but everything will grow out of what came before and everything will come from the same place."

And Neverland will be better for it.

"And all because my air conditioner died and I took a walk and ran into Bob."

Rob. Rob Marshall.

"No. He introduced himself as Bob. He directed and choreographed Cabaret."

Right. Rob Marshall. He co-directed and choreographed Roundabout's revival of Cabaret.

"Oh, I see. No. I met Bob. Bob Fosse. He directed and choreographed the movie of Cabaret. He doesn't like what they've done with Cabaret in the revival at all. He hates it. He told me so himself."

Fosse? You spent Saturday night talking with Bob Fosse?

"Yea. We're both from Chicago, you know."

Fosse?

"That's what I said. What's the matter with you? Why are you looking at me like that?"

Bob Fosse died 11 years ago this September 23rd.

"No, he didn't. I talked to him for hours. He was mad and depressed, but he was definitely alive."

It must have been someone else.

"Hey, I know what Bob looks and sounds like. I've seen the photos and the interviews. I was talking to Bob Fosse. He's not dead."

It couldn't have been him.

"It was. He told me he's in town to close the revival of Cabaret."

How? He's dead.

"I don't know what his plans are, but he said he was going to close Cabaret if he had to raze the Henry Miller to do it. And he's not dead."

Winner of an Oscar for Cabaret, a Tony for Pippin, and an Emmy for Liza with a Z - all in one year, 1972 - Bob Fosse was one of America's greatest choreographers and directors. Born in Chicago, young Fosse began his career tap dancing as part of the Riff Brothers in sleazy strip joints, where he encountered the erotic style that later became his signature. By 1946 he was dancing on Broadway, but went to Hollywood, hoping to become the next Gene Kelly. Instead, he found unexpected success as a choreographer and director of such musical hits as The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, Sweet Charity, and Chicago, and of five movies, three of which were nominated for Academy awards: Cabaret, Lenny, and the autobiographical All That Jazz.

A compulsive womanizer, he had many affairs, even during his three marriages, the last of which was to actress Gwen Verdon, with whom he shared his most fruitful Broadway collaborations. Fosse was a complex man, both shy and sensitive on the one hand, and cold, vulgar, and bleak on the other. As his fame grew, so too did his insecurities and addictions. He survived two heart attacks and several epileptic seizures, only to die on a street corner in Washington, D. C. in Verdon's arms. After his death he became a Broadway legend. Based on interviews with friends, family, and colleagues, All His Jazz: The Life and Death of Bob Fosse provides a vivid connection between Bob Fosse's life and his work for stage and screen.

All His Jazz:
The Life and Death of Bob Fosse

by Martin Gottfried
List Price $16.95
Da Capo Press
ISBN 0306808374


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