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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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!

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.

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?

This is our “Once-A-Year Day!”—Happy Fourth of July! The Pajama Game 1957

Happy Fourth of July!  Since many Americans will celebrate this holiday with a picnic in the park, here’s a fun clip of Bob Fosse’s “Once-A-Year Day” from the 1957 film version of “The Pajama Game.”

In a Dance Magazine article (1957), Carol Haney described the “Once-A-Year Day” choreography—both the choreography of the movement and of the camera: “For a scene like the big “Once-A-Year Day” number—the picnic dance which we did on location in a park—Bob Fosse re-choreographed his original dance completely to involve more people and all the space you can cover with a camera. And Stanley Donen, who knows about dance, photographed it in wonderful travelling shots that captured all of the dynamism of the movements and at the same time provided enough air around the performers to make their movements significant. You see, you just can’t set up your camera and photograph a dance…You have to know just where to place it, which angle will make it exciting and alive.”