Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon changed the musical world, both on stage and on screen. The Fosse/Verdon series (FX) tells the story of the complicated love and successful artistic collaboration between the choreographer and his muse. 

Michelle Williams and Sam Rockwell in Fosse/Verdon © FX

Two legends of the musical scene are brought back to life on screen, through the impressive performances of Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams, in the Fosse/Verdon series. They play Bob  Fosse, choreographer extraordinaire turned Cannes-celebrated director and Gwen Verdon, star actress of Broadway, his muse and an equally great artist. Fosse/Verdon came out in April 2019, and if you haven’t had time to watch it, take advantage of the rest of the summer. The eight-part series has been nominated 17 times at the Emmy Awards, which will take place in September.

A complicated love story

Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon met during the rehearsals for Damn Yankees! in 1955. Even though they were both in relationships at the time, they fell in love and got married. They had a stormy marriage and ended up separating but they never got divorced and kept on working together – and loving each other – until Fosse died of a heart attack in 1897. Together, they made some of the most admired Broadway musicals (Chicago…) and movies (Cabaret…) of the era. It’s this stormy love story between a driven, self-destructive and womanizing artist and a strong and very talented woman who is often forgotten, that is narrated in Fosse/Verdon. The series reads like an ode to the talent and inspiration of these two characters who changed Broadway while showcasing their deep personal struggles.

Fosse is the insufferable genius and Verdon the suffering woman who loves him and helps him even though he scorns her. But through the different time periods and the subtle performance of Michelle Williams, the series gets away from the cliche. In this post #MeToo world, Bob Fosse could have just been the one-dimensional powerful man treating badly the women around him and burning the candle at both ends (between substance abuse and working endlessly). But with the help of Nicole Fosse, Verdon and Fosse’s only child, the series becomes much more than that. The question of abuse (which both Verdon and Fosse were victims of) is central, and reflects an important question of today’s Hollywood scene. How do you break free from the cycle of abuse? Gwen Verdon is also given her due, not just as the muse of a brilliant choreographer but as the woman who supports him and as an artist who is central to the creation of Fosse’s masterpieces.

A constant back and forth in time

However, for viewers who have no clue about Fosse’s life, things can get blurry, especially at the beginning. Fosse/Verdon is using the same principle as Fosse himself did in Lenny (1974), jumping from one time-period to another (between 1955 and 1897). Since time is marked by a countdown to Fosse’s ineluctable death, the spectator can feel lost for a while, finding his footing in the amount of hair left on Rockwell’s head.

Nevertheless, the choreography, the familiar show tunes, the personal tragedies and the acting are more than enough to keep the viewer hooked on Fosse/Verdon.

Article by Juliette Cardinale

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