Turned in knees, shuffles and jazz hands — all are staples of Bob Fosse’s iconic signature choreography. And let’s not forget the bowler hats or canes, either.
From a young age, I knew who Fosse was; his choreography and dancing were legendary within most theatre or movie circles. “Chicago,” “Pippin” and “Cabaret,” musicals that explore the themes and underbelly of show business and the art of performance, are some of his most recognizable works. They have managed to stand the test of time, joining the canonical history of musical theatre.
However, his partner in crime, Gwen Verdon, seems to not be remembered quite as frequently or as fervently as the legend that is Fosse. Furthermore, Fosse could not have done what he did without Verdon, which is what FX’s “Fosse/Verdon” aims to prove.
If you are not aware or exposed to musical theatre, and consequently movie musicals, these two names might be all but nonexistent. But FX’s “Fosse/Verdon” brings the pair back into the central stream of media, and if its first episode is telling, the series appears to be a resounding success.
In the pilot, audiences learn that Fosse would not have been able to be a functional success without Verdon’s help, as she was a powerhouse in her own right. Indeed, she was an incredibly famous Broadway dancer in her own right. During the ’50s and ’60s, Verdon was arguably the best dancer on Broadway. She won four Tony Awards for her work in “Can-Can,” “Damn Yankees,” “New Girl in Town” and “Redhead.” This was all between 1954–1959 — impressive to say the least.
In fact, during their original coming together, professionally and personally, Verdon was the star. However, Fosse’s signature dance moves aged better through history, and, over time, Fosse’s reputation outgrew Verdon’s.
At the episode’s beginning, the camera finds an aged Fosse directing choreography on a movie. This would seem to be the framing of the entire show, a jumping and looking back and forth between individual moments in the couple’s life together, a nonlinear form of storytelling that accentuates the ups and downs of their relationship. These time-labeled memories put a cap on Fosse’s life and on this series, making every moment count within the framework of the show.
From the beginning of the show, it becomes clear that Verdon was the person who understood Fosse’s intentions better than anyone else, and she often interpreted them for the rest of his working peers. Despite this invaluable service, she only infrequently received credit.
Verdon coached dancers, crew and cameras all while making creative decisions just as much as Fosse did. She also went the extra mile to make their visions a reality, even going to Munich on a moment’s notice when Fosse made a call — a call he made while sleeping with another woman.
The pair originally met during the inception of “Damn Yankees” while Fosse was married to another actress. The second episode of the series depicts his then-wife, Joan McCraken, as fatally ill. All the while, Verdon and Fosse begin their affair. The moral dilemmas of the couple start out with a bang, and the series makes sure to pick up on every questionable detail.
“Fosse/Verdon” also details the truth that the couple was indeed together to the last moment, but their relationship made headlines just as much as their productions. Married in 1960, the couple stayed together until 1971 when they separated but never divorced. They had one child together, but having a child did not keep them together. From the very first episode, the show sadly sows the seeds that their child will be left to her own devices most of the time.
1971 was also the year that the movie version of “Cabaret” premiered, with no credit given to Verdon whatsoever. This is where the first episode begins to attempt to revive forgotten knowledge.
The show, so far, has successfully captured the tension of the infamous relationship that created so many iconic pieces of art. If the beautifully stitched-together scenes didn’t already call your attention, the combined talent of Sam Rockwell’s Fosse and Michelle Williams’s Verdon most definitely demand your viewership. “Fosse/Verdon” can be found on FX at 10 p.m. on Tuesdays.