Stephanie Pope: What Was Bob Fosse Really Like?

by Frank Rizzo
May, 2019

Many fans of Broadway musicals are riveted to the current television mini-series Fosse/Verdon on the FX Network. The eight-episode series, based on the biography Fosse by Sam Wasson and directed by Tommy Kail (Broadway’s Hamilton), follows the lives, careers, and relationships of film, stage, and television director-choreographer Bob Fosse, played by Sam Rockwell, and beloved Tony Award-winning actress-dancer Gwen Verdon, played by Michelle Williams.

Watching the series with particular interest in Stephanie Pope, who is featured in a revival of The Music Man at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam. (The run of the musical has been extended to Thursday, June 20.) Pope plays the comic character role of the mayor’s wife, Eulalie Shinn, but she proudly calls herself “a Fosse dancer,” having performed in many of his shows.

I talked with Pope, whom I saw in Fosse’s last original Broadway musical, Big Deal, during its out of town try-out in Boston in 1986. (The show closed shortly after it made it to Broadway, though his choreography earned Fosse his eighth Tony Award.)

In 1987, Pope played Helene in the tour launch of the revival of Sweet Charity, which starred Debbie Allen on Broadway. Fosse and Verdon were readying the company when he collapsed on the street in Washington, D.C. while walking with Verdon from his hotel to the theater where the tour was about to open that night. He died of a massive heart attack later that evening. He was 60.

What was he like that day?

“He rehearsed us like crazy and at the end we all gathered around and he made a speech, saying things like ‘Save your money,’ and things like that. We thought it was kind if an odd speech to give on an opening day.

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BWW Review: DANCERS FOR GOOD 2019 Outdoes Itself Again!

“The most touching moment occurred when [Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon’s] grandson, Noah Fosse, who admitted to never getting to meet his grandfather, recalled his grandmother as being his “best friend” and–as a senior citizen–still building forts by toppling the couches in the living room. Thank goodness for (their daughter) Nicole and Noah who continue to honor and promote the Verdon Fosse Legacy! In a titillating trio that displayed exactly why Bob Fosse has maintained such an exalted status, the star of the FX series Fosse/Verdon who played Chita Rivera–Bianca Pamela Marroquin–along with the slinky, sexy dance studs Nicholas de la Vega and Nicholas Sipes, performed the number “I Gotcha” from Liza With a Z that garnered Fosse awards and recognition in his landmark year, 1972. The scintillating threesome brought sizzle to the evening with their red-hot presentation. With her swinging ponytail, long legs, knocked knees and quirky attitude, Marroquin channeled Minelli on stage as flawlessly as she did Rivera on the screen. Mimi Quillin, who worked with Fosse and Verdon, reconstructed the smokin’ dance from a video, which the talented dancers adapted to in almost no time. The two Nicks referred to one of the most thrilling, iconic and challenging signature Fosse moves–the scoot–where they crawl across the stage, stiff upper body, shuffling feet and bent knees (a bit like Voguing but more painful) as “the thigh burner.”

BWW Review: DANCERS FOR GOOD 2019 Outdoes Itself Again!

La Guardia High School conquers “Sing, Sing, Sing”

Congratulations to the dancers of La Guardia High School’s senior showcase.  The Verdon Fosse Legacy was honored to reconstruct Bob Fosse’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” (DANCIN’ 1978) for the show’s finale.  Lloyd Culbreath and VFL protege, Alyssa Epstein, reconstructed the entire 13-minute work.  La Guardia’s band provided invigorating live orchestration for this musically magical piece of choreography.  Here are a few highlights from the performance. Thank you to Gregory Sinacori and the La Guardia dance department administration for making this possible.  (Photography: Scott Allen, Costumes: Keiko Voltaire)

 

The dancers will revive their show-stopping performance at this year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival in early August.  Stay tuned for more!

Dance Against Cancer 2019

The Verdon Fosse Legacy performed in the 9th annual Dance Against Cancer event at Lincoln Center. This year’s event raised over $450,000 for The American Cancer Society.  Verdon Fosse Legacy Protege, Michael McArthur, reconstructed “Mexican Breakfast” (Ed Sullivan Show, 1969) for a trio of VFL dancers (Alyssa Epstein, Nicolas de la Vega, and Nicholas Sipes) and students from the Kanyok Arts Institute.  Thank you to all of the dancers, donors, and administrators that helped facilitate this incredible performance for an incredible cause.

Professional Work Session with Linda Haberman

Linda Haberman taught a sold-out FOSSE Work Session at Steps on Broadway. Haberman served as assistant choreographer for Bob Fosse’s last original musical, BIG DEAL, and also performed in DANCIN’ and PIPPIN. Check out a short video clip from class (“Beat Me Daddy” from BIG DEAL).

“Beat Me Daddy” from BIG DEAL

Fosse Master Classes @ BDC

Broadway Dance Center is proud to host The Verdon Fosse Legacy LLC for a series of 3-hour master classes, in which students will learn iconic Fosse® rep under the direction of Fosse® veterans. Don’t miss your chance to train in one of Broadway’s most acclaimed techniques! These Adv FOSSE® REP classes are for dancers ages 16+.

Each week, students will learn choreography from the previous episode of Fosse/Verdon on FX!  Click here to register.

RIP Stanley Donen

The Verdon Fosse Legacy mourns the loss of Stanley Donen. Donen directed such films as “Give A Girl A Break” (1953), “The Pajama Game” (1957), “Damn Yankees” (1958), and “The Little Prince” (1974).

Bob Fosse, Stanley Donen, and Debbie Reynolds on the set of “Give A Girl A Break” (1953)

Stanley Donen, Director of Iconic Movie Musicals, Dies at 94

Start ’em young! Stephanie Pope teaches some itty bitty blackbirds…

Fosse veteran Stephanie Pope (BIG DEAL, SWEET CHARITY) taught a master class to dancers of KMJ Jazz Company and Expressions Dance in North Carolina.  Aren’t these kids just the cutest little “blackbirds” you ever did see?