Quick Change Reviews - Fosse Verdon
Fosse Verdon follows the creative partnership and fractured romance of two of the theatre world’s greatest geniuses; Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon. Over eight episodes we see their collaborations spanning from the 1950s to late 1980s, and delve into the iconic musicals that they brought to life both on stage (Pippin, Chicago) and on film (Cabaret, All That Jazz). With no linear timeline in place, the show skips back and forth bookmarking the setting with a countdown to Fosse’s death.
Our two protagonists have toxic traits that mix together for a recipe for chaos and passion. Bob Fosse blurs business with pleasure and is obsessed with drink, drugs, women and success as he tirelessly searches for more to place against his name. Gwen Verdon is a Broadway sweetheart chasing dreams and love from her husband and critics. Set in the hidden crooks of New York, their stomping ground is both glamorous and dooming.
As the pair discover more about themselves and the other through marriage, adultery, parenthood and failing careers, ultimately we are witness to a deep and unfaltering friendship between two people who only really need to be understood by the other.
Star of the show
Michelle Williams representation of Gwen Verdon is breathtaking. A modest but stellar triple threat, she shows the athleticism and strength of a Broadway star. From the raspy vocals, to the delicacy of her posture and emotive facial expressions, Williams embodies Verdon with her every being and makes us believe and root for her happy ending.
Episode 6 “All I Care About Is Love”. This episode features the least musical numbers but delves deeper into Fosse’s childhood as we begin to understand his behaviours. Paying homage to Fosse’s 1974 Lenny Bruce biopic, Lenny, the episode cuts to him performing grim and unsettling stand up recalling his mental health struggles and sexual abuse as a child.
Pay close attention to
How Michelle Williams ages as Gwen Verdon in her looks and how she holds herself, and her voice. It took a team of seven hairstylists and 11 makeup and prosthetic artists to transform Williams into Verdon in multiple decades. To achieve such a feat, Bob and Gwen’s daughter, Nicole Fosse, provided unseen photos of her mother as inspiration for her looks and style. To make the actors seem younger the creative styling team used face lifts and hid them under their wigs, and to make them look older they used prosthetics. It was during the 1970s sequences that the two leads wore only makeup. After recognising that Verdon had a slight overbite, Williams wore fake veneers and coloured them as she aged
Best musical number
Opening the series is ‘Big Spender’ from Sweet Charity and it couldn’t be more fitting. Both seductive and haunting, the number captures the duo’s gritty yet alluring aesthetic. The scene shows Verdon teaching the choreography to the actors who are taking the role from stage to screen. It is a bittersweet moment as she originated the lead on Broadway, and was never credited for creative role in her husband’s film. This becomes a recurring theme across her life as Verdon frequently lost roles that she first conceived to actresses within Fosse’s interest. The role of Charity was passed over to Fosse’s long term partner Ann Reinking, who later acquired the role of Roxie in Chicago - a show and part that Verdon created. After Chicago’s original opening, Verdon was forced to have vocal surgery and Fosse famously handed the role to Liza Minelli without consultation.
Tugs on the heartstrings
There are many tear-jerking moments, both good and bad. We see Gwen have to lose a child born of abuse, Fosse struggle with poor mental health and contemplate suicide, and the loss of their dear family friend. A tender moment is one shared between Fosse and his daughter, Nicole, as they choreograph a routine and dance to ‘Mr Bojangles’.
However, the biggest tear jerker has to be the end scene as Fosse meets his death following years of epiletic seizures and heart attacks. The series finishes how it began, with Sweet Charity. As he and Verdon walk towards the opening night of the show’s revival, that they produced together, he suffers a fatal attack.
One to watch
Margaret Qualley’s portrayal of Ann Reinking is raw and honest. As a trained ballerina, she is a lifelong fan of her character. Her most sensational part is a chaotic scene as she auditions to play a character based on herself in Fosse’s semi-autobiographical movie, All That Jazz. In it, Ann must repeat lines to Fosse’s criticism until she breaks down and receives his validation.
Fosse Verdon features Lin-Manuel as an executive producer and in episode eight he makes a brief cameo. The episode recreates the finale of All That Jazz, and Lin plays the role of Roy Schneider portraying Joe Gideon in the movie.