Your Fairy Godfather’s Guide to Bob Fosse’s "Rich Man’s Frug" From "Sweet Charity"
© 2012 by Aurelio Locsin.
My wings are all aflutter with excitement at telling you about one of the great movie dance numbers of all time. But first a prelude to the clip from the 1969 classic Sweet Charity. Charity Hope Valentine, a taxi dancer played by the fabulous Shirley MacLaine, is charmed by one of her millionaire clients, Vittorio Vidal, played by the suave Ricardo Montalban. He takes her to his favorite haunt of the rich and famous, where they witness the Rich Man’s Frug. Enjoy the entertainment now.
The Frug, which you pronounce FROOG, is not a made up name. No, darling, it was an actual dance in the 1960s and was sometimes called the Surf, Big Bea or Thunderbird. Your fairy godfather and his enchanted friends did it when the Twist tuckered us out. We flailed our arms and legs in way of the Twist but toned down the swiveling hips into a fast or sometimes slow sway. We were so creative back then: our gyrations morphed the basic dance into such standards as the Watusi, the Mashed Potato and the Jerk.
Let us all hold hands around the electronic ether and bow our heads in homage to the creator of Rich Man’s Frug, the legendary Bob Fosse (1927 – 1987). With eight awards to his credit, the master has won more Tonys for choreography than anybody else. (His one director’s Tony for Pippin’ was a bonus.) Sweet Charity was the first of his five feature films. His next film, Cabaret, won eight Oscars, including Best Director. The most famous of his paramours was his third wife, Gwen Verdon, an actress and dancer. She was uncredited as the assistant choreographer of Sweet Charity.
The first of the three dances in the Rich Man’s Frug showcases Bob Fosse’s ability to combine social commentary, humor and innovative movement. Rich snobs, incapable of expressing any true emotion in their faces, reveal their boredom with highly controlled and stylized leg and arm movements that boil down even further to a thumb dance. The swiveling of open palms and fists around the wrists is very Bob Fosse.
The main mama here is Suzanne Charney. She was the lead dancer in the first Broadway production and reprised her role in the film. She later acted in several TV shows.
The second dance always brings your fairy godfather a smile as being the funniest in the collection. Perhaps this number reveals the struggles and competitiveness inherent in the lifestyles of the super-rich and between the sexes. Or maybe it’s just supposed to be fun. In any case, it’s just a bit too fey to be taken as a serious commentary on boxing.
The final crouching line dance that leads to a knockout is a marvelous display of coordination, strength and endurance. Don’t believe me? Try doing it solo and see how long you last before your gams give out.
The Big Finish
The aptly titled finale allows the swells to suddenly let loose all their pent-up under the camouflage of the dark and dim light, but only between bouts of self-controlled group expression. The caged wild leopard seems domestically tame compared to these crazy bunnies.
Look out for hoofer Ben Vereen who whips the crowd up into a frenzy in his first film appearance. (Another Broadway celebrity, Chita Rivera, also makes her film debut but is not in this number.) Eventually, the freak out dissipates and order is restored as the dancers straighten their mussed-up coifs to return to their normal straightjackets.