Fosse/Verdon: Broadway’s Troubled Choreographic Royalty

If They Could See Themselves Now!

I didn’t rush to watch FX’s Fosse/Verdon series when it began in April cause I wasn’t willing to repeat sacrificing another 8+ hours after forcing myself to get through season 2 of American Crime Story – The Assassination of Gianni Versace, Jan – Mar of 2018, in hopes that it would get better at some point – which it didn’t. I’m not saying I hated it because it was visually beautiful, but they should have called it “The Long Drawn Out Story of Andrew Cunanan,” cause it was mostly – Meh… Though I will say the casting was spot on with Darren Criss who could have been Cunanan’s twin. I digress…

Well, yesterday afternoon curiosity got the best of me and I watched the first episode of the series during lunch and a third of the way through knew that I had to watch without the distraction of commercials, so I purchased the darn series on Amazon. At 11:30-ish PM I resumed E1 and binged the remain 7 episodes through to this morning – What a wild ride, in more ways than one.

The first time I saw the seductive “Big Spender” number in Sweet Charity I was captivated. I couldn’t get the music nor the scenes out of my mind for weeks…

Only to be rivaled by Chicago’s languorously erotic “Cell Block Tango”, the movie was even better than the play. The later sent me on many a foray into the library card catalog (index cards – no computers yet) and through many a stack of books to find out as much as I could about the actors, directors, writers, and choreographers.

Outside of New York, Chicago or Los Angeles Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon had an unconventional relationship and marriage for their time together between 1955 until his death in 1987. But, in those cities where hedonism and strong ambitions flourished, they were creatively amazing in their element, yet never completely happy. Such is the setting for Fosse/Verdon, staring the versatile Sam Rockwell as Fosse and Michelle Williams giving us a mesmerizing performance as Gwen Verdon done to the twitchy catches in her voice – and can Williams sing!!!.

Being a fan of Verdon I was astounded by how Williams completely embodied her. It also started me in that at times I’d confuse her with Shirley MacLaine – Have we become fans of the real MacLaine or of the persona of MacLaine imitating Verdon? Hummmm…I’ll have to look into that…

The writers of this FX network’s 8 episode series vividly captured the intermingling of two people who endured difficult situations in their youth, the damaged it caused that they carried through their lives, its effect on their time together, the individual desire for stardom that fueled their internal competition and collaboration which created some of the most memorable, sexually electrified choreography Broadway and Hollywood have seen.

The competition between the two to reach the top shows us how their daughter ended up taking the farthest back seat in the family bus, so great parents they weren’t, yet despite Fosse’s blatant screwing around, his insistence he be allowed to have an open marriage, but not her, add to that his heavy cigarette, alcohol and drug use, along with the multiple times he selfishly undermined Verdon’s career, they understood each other professionally – like they were the same person in two different bodies.

We are shown what a consummate, manipulatively misogynistic, and perpetually horny pig Fosse really was, which was directly blamed on being raped by a group of pedophile burlesque queens in their 40’s. Then again we’re also privy to Verdon’s extreme passive aggressive behavior which was attributed to her being raped by a reporter as a teen, their bastard son and short lived marriage, her abandoning her son to her parents and never turning back, chose to sacrifice it all and tolerate Fosse’s faux pas in order to achieve her success. Neither young life had been a bed of roses.

This truth filled biopic is primarily based on what Town & Country Magazine called Fosse/Verdon’s Greatest Asset” the accounts of Fosse and Verdon’s daughter Nicole Fosse, the one who suffered most and who made sure the cast had the little details that transform a run of the mill story into a gem. In Nicole’s own words…

Worse thing about the series: The chronological hopscotching done by the writers and/or directors (there were 4) are distracting and disconcerting if you have some knowledge of their productions – if you are coming to their work cold, you should just ignore the screen references to year or situation; if you’re binge watching the shows; if you watch on demand, the long commercial breaks will make you’ll forget what year or situation they’re in.

If you’re looking to be entertained with impressive performances by a strong cast – did I mention that one of the producers, Manuel Lin-Miranda, also has a small part??? – this limited series will satisfy. FX did good, real good!

Until next time,

I’m Outta Here ~ Zadie G

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