If the emergence of the contagious COVID-19 Omicron variant has you stuck at home, here are three great reads to pass the time (and virtually burn some calories, too).
“Everything is Choreography: The Musical Theater of Tommy Tune”
by Kevin Winkler, Oxford University Press, $35
Dance has always been a passion for Kevin Winkler. After more than a decade as a dancer on stage, he pursued a library science degree and landed a job with the New York Library of the Performing Arts. Now retired and a South Florida snowbird, he’s writing volumes about legendary choreographers that have found places in that prestigious library’s collection.
His latest book, “Everything is Choreography: The Musical Theater of Tommy Tune,” was released by Oxford University Press last November.
“Some of the most delightful moments I ever spent in a theater were at shows Tommy Tune either directed, choreographed or performed in,” said Winkler. “He’s won a boatload of Tony Awards [and] been declared a living landmark by the New York Landmarks Commission, and yet, surprisingly, there’s been little critical discussion of his work as an artist and creative force in theater. He either doesn’t get mentioned or is just mentioned in passing. A book about his artistic life will fill that void.”
Winkler had just completed his survey of Fosse’s dance legacy and sent Tune a copy of the book, hoping to get his attention and even pique his interest in the project. Tune had already written his own memoir 25 years earlier, but Winkler was more concerned with the choreographer’s creative process and legacy. Tune called him a few weeks later.
“He trusted me,” Winkler shared. “He’s very open. Something that really impressed me is that he has a real abiding love for the theater. He’s spent his whole life working in the theater. My biggest takeaway was that the theatrical experience — the connection between performer and audience — is something sacred, really, and he has such great respect for that interaction.”
“Dancing Man, a Broadway Choreographer’s Journey”
by Bob Avian with Tom Santopietro, Univ. Press of Miss., $28
For more than 60 years, Bob Avian made history on the Broadway stage.
Just months before his sudden death a year ago, Avian shared the story of his career in a candid, witty and sometimes surprising autobiography, “Dancing Man, a Broadway Choreographer’s Journey.”
His first break came as a dancer in “West Side Story” and “Funny Girl.” He met choreographer and director Michael Bennett in 1962 and, over the next two decades, they would collaborate on “Promises, Promises,” “Company” and “Follies.” Avian shared a Tony Award with Bennett for their work on “A Chorus Line,” the show that reinvented the Broadway musical in the 1970s.
Avian went on to produce “Dreamgirls,” and, on London's West End, choreographed “Follies,” “Martin Guerre,” “The Witches of Eastwick,” “Miss Saigon” and “Sunset Boulevard.” Along the way, he worked with the biggest names in show business, including Barbra Streisand, Mary Martin, Cameron Mackintosh, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Carol Burnett, Jennifer Holliday, Patti LuPone, Elaine Stritch and Glenn Close.
Almost ironically, in the frightful era of COVID-19, Avian spent some time remembering Bennett’s last months after being diagnosed with AIDS. Just as Avian was Bennett’s sidekick on the stage, he was also there through clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health and many ups and downs until “eventually the dark day came” in 1987.
“Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley”
Jeffrey Spivak, Univ. Press of Kentucky, $29.95
Characterized by grandiose song-and-dance numbers featuring ornate geometric patterns and mimicked in many modern films, Busby Berkeley's (1895–1976) unique artistry is as recognizable and striking as ever.
“Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley” by Jeffrey Spivak is a telling portrait of the filmmaker who revolutionized the musical and changed the world of choreography. Employing personal letters, interviews, studio memoranda and Berkeley's private memoirs, Spivak unveils the colorful life of one of cinema's greatest artists.
From his years on Broadway to the director's chair, Berkeley was notable for his inventiveness and signature style. Through sensational films like “42nd Street” (1933), “Gold Diggers of 1933” (1933), “Footlight Parade” (1933), and “Dames” (1934), Berkeley sought to distract audiences from the troubles of the Great Depression.
Although his bold technique is familiar to millions of moviegoers, Berkeley's life remains a mystery. Despite rumors he was gay, he married six times, but remained devoted to his mother and attempted suicide twice following her death. A heavy drinker, Berkeley’s reputation was also marred by a drunk driving accident that killed two and injured five people, even though a jury failed to convict him.
Berkeley died at the age of 80 in Palm Springs, California in 1976 of natural causes.