Review: 'Fosse/Verdon' (8-episode miniseries on FX)

April 28, 2020
Fosse Verdon

'FOSSE/VERDON’ is an 8-episode mini-series on FX chronicling the love story of director-choreographer Bob Fosse and actress-dancer Gwen Verdon, both Broadway icons. Fosse won the Oscar best director award for “Cabaret” and he has also won the Tony Award and the Emmy for his works on stage and on TV. 

Verdon was a big hit in the Broadway musical “Damn Yankees” and she reprised her role there in the Hollywood movie version as Lola, singing the hit song “Whatever Lola Wants”. She also starred in other hit stage musicals like “Can Can”, “Sweet Charity” and “Chicago”.

You don’t have to be a fan of musical theater to enjoy this mini-series, which has so many highly entertaining musical numbers taken from the shows where the major characters have appeared. Fosse is played by Sam Rockwell, who won the Oscar best supporting actor award for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”. He’s good but the one who runs away with the show is Michelle Williams as Gwen Verdon. 

Michelle started as a teen star in “Dawson’s Creek” but she has since eclipsed all her bigger co-stars there. She has four Oscar nominations for “Brokeback Mountain”, “Blue Valentine”, “Manchester by the Sea” and for playing Marilyn Monroe in “My Weekend with Marilyn”. She has never won an Oscar but she has won the Golden Globe twice, as best actress for “Weekend with Marilyn” and for “Fosse/Verdon”. The latter also won her an Emmy best actress award.

“Fosse/Verdon” starts with Bob making his directorial film debut in “Sweet Charity” starring Shirley Maclaine, which flopped. This made him try harder for his next directorial job, the film version of “Cabaret” starring Liza Minelli, which was more successful as it’s not only a hit but also won several Oscars, including best picture and, for him, best director. 

The love story between Bob and Gwen spans several decades but it’s not told in the usual chronological manner. Instead, it is presented in carefully constructed vignettes that examine their romance, lives and career from various angles. It goes back and forth in time, from the time when they were children, both starting as dancers, and how they met and fell in love while doing “Damn Yankees” while Bob was still married to another Broadway actress. Eventually, they also get married, have a daughter, separate and then become good friends and creative collaborators through the years, until Bob died in Gwen’s arms as their revival of “Sweet Charity” is about to open in Washington D.C. 

To say that their relationship is tempestuous would be an understatement. Through it all, one thing stands out: Bob Fosse is someone difficult to live with. He’s into drugs and booze, and a serial womanizer who beds the pretty dancers he gets to work with, and if ever they’d reject his sexual advances, there will be retribution. We’re not surprised that Gwen left him because of his incessant extra marital affairs. 

In flashbacks, this is given justification with a scene showing him being sexually abused by 40-year old strippers who took turns on him when he was only a 13-year old dancer. He says it doomed him and screwed up all his relationships for life as it made him a sexual predator himself. 

The mini-series also shows Bob’s friendship with other Broadway luminaries, notably famous playwrights Paddy Chayefsky and Neil Simon, and his new love, actress Ann Reinking. We see them rehearsing for new plays like “Pippin” and “Chicago” and shooting new movies like “Lenny” and “All That Jazz”, which both got Oscar nominations. 

We see Bob having a heart attack and being confined in a mental hospital. Doctors tell him to rest for a year and stay away from drugs and booze, but he’s so hardheaded and you know he’s on the road to self destruction which ends his life in 1987 when he’s only 60 years old. Gwen outlived him for several years, dying in 2000 at the age of 75 in her sleep.  Involved in the production of this mini-series are current Broadway big names like Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton”) and Steven Levenson (“Evan Hansen”).

Rockwell gets to capture Bob’s passion for his work as well as his creepiness with women, but it’s really Michelle Williams who stands out here as she’s given more demanding song and dance numbers and also highly dramatic scenes which she all performs so exceptionally and persuasively.