For eight weeks, FX is airing Fosse/Verdon, a restricted collection about iconic choreographer/director Bob Fosse and legendary dancer Gwen Verdon, his spouse and inventive accomplice. Moreover being catnip for theater followers, their story raises ideas and questions on love, artwork, sacrifice, exploitation, abuse, and different matters which are each well timed and timeless. This collection explores each the aesthetic points of the present and its dealing with of these matters.
Vanity of vanities, all is vainness. King Solomon wrote that, but when he hadn’t, Bob Fosse may need. In 1973 he skilled a stage of success that few different artists have achieved, profitable an Oscar for guiding Cabaret, two Tonys for guiding and choreographing Pippin, and three Emmys for guiding, choreographing, and co-producing Liza Minnelli’s tv live performance Liza with a Z. However on this week’s episode of Fosse/Verdon, the extra the awards pile up, the extra depressing Bob turns into.
He’s immersed in what a therapist would name “negative self-talk,” consistently telling himself and anybody else within the neighborhood that everybody goes to hate his work. And when it seems they love his work—when his work is so lauded that he has “total freedom” to do no matter mission he desires—he’s depressing anyway. He works more durable than ever, and when he’s not working, he resorts to medication, partying, and ladies—tons and tons of ladies—for comfort. However none of it could pull him out of his downward spiral.
Fosse’s buddy Paddy Chayefsky, slumped at the back of a limousine with him, precisely diagnoses the considering behind his distress: “It’s all just bull****. . . . [But] it’s not that the world is bull****. You’re bull****. You’re bull****. And if you’re bull****, and they’re giving you an award, they must be bull**** too. . . . You could win a hundred [awards], Bob; it’s bull**** all the way down.” (Cease serving to, Paddy.)
The worst of it’s that though Bob feels uneasy with all this acclaim and energy, he has no downside abusing it. In an incident apparently drawn from a number of such real-life incidents, he tries to drive himself on Sherry, a dancer from the forged of his new present, Pippin. After she resists—to the purpose of knocking him down—she loses her featured function within the present. “Lousy dancer or bad lay?” Gwen asks perceptively, watching Bob make the change within the rehearsal room.
It’s value noting that Sam Wasson’s biography of Fosse, on which the present relies, is fairly good on this deeply troubling facet of the person. There are moments when Wasson seems at Fosse’s abuses by means of glasses which are fully too rose-colored. (Coping with him was a bonding expertise for dancers! Isn’t that particular!) However to his credit score, he interviewed lots of the dancers whom Fosse exploited, and potently portrayed the combination of desperation, ambition, and low shallowness that made lots of them straightforward prey. Geared up with a poisonous mix of energy, expertise, and self-absorption, coupled with the power to allure and the power to bully, Fosse lured in sufficient girls to start out a #MeToo motion all their very own.
While Bob’s skilled life is hovering and his private life is crumbling, Gwen is transferring in the other way. Her play is a colossal flop, closing after one night time. However concerning household life, she will get a wake-up name from her pricey buddy Joan Simon (Aya Money), who’s within the hospital with an sickness that we quickly uncover to be terminal. The present executes a neat little bait-and-switch right here, for simply as we predict Joan is about to beg Gwen to observe over Joan’s youngsters, Joan as an alternative begs Gwen to observe over her personal youngster. As a former dancer and the spouse of playwright Neil Simon, Joan is aware of a factor or two concerning the showbiz life. Kids who develop up in rehearsal rooms, she warns, are likely to “grow up too fast.”
Gwen takes the phrases to coronary heart and concentrates anew on motherhood. She’s additionally moved on romantically, discovering a brand new boyfriend. (When Bob stumbles into Gwen’s condominium one night time and makes an attempt to shock her in mattress, hilarity ensues.) She’s nonetheless fascinated by getting Bob to direct Chicago for her, however in the meanwhile he’s targeted on Pippin, the present about—who’d’a thunk!—a person looking for which means and goal in life.
The parallels between Pippin’s quest and Bob’s life are a bit on-the-nose at occasions, however they’re so apparent that it will have been arduous not to reap the benefits of them. After all, Bob has to take that quest to extremes. To the dismay of the present’s author/composer, Stephen Schwartz, Bob pushes for a scene exhibiting the opposite characters tempting Pippin to set himself on fireplace. With seemingly all the pieces to dwell for, each the character and the director are greedy for a motive, any motive, to go on.
A Broadway musical of the old-fashioned may need recommended that romantic love was the reply to all of its lead characters’ issues, the hope of salvation proper right here on earth. Fosse/Verdon is aware of higher. For Fosse, romantic love is one thing to fall again on when lust lets him down, however by that point the lust has eaten away on the love till there’s little left. He and Gwen are nonetheless in a position and keen to touch upon one another’s work, however at this level they’re unable to be there for one another in the way in which they as soon as have been.
When Gwen involves rehearsal and watches Bob give dancer Ann Reinking (a spot-on Margaret Qualley) the featured function that had belonged to Sherry, we’re watching a faint echo of the sooner scene the place Joan McCracken watched Bob rehearsing with a younger Gwen. In contrast to most, Ann has held out in opposition to Bob’s advances for some time, however those that know their Broadway historical past know that she gained’t maintain out endlessly. In addition they know that Ann gained’t be Bob’s final or solely romantic curiosity.
Tright here is not any permanence, no lasting consolation, in romantic love for Bob Fosse. However there’s nonetheless Nicole, who has come to function a kind of touchstone for each her dad and mom. When Fosse is lastly pushed to a colourful Pippin-themed hallucination of varied family members urging him towards suicide, telling him it will be the bravest and most memorable act of all, it’s the picture of his little lady that yanks him again from the brink. In a properly inventive contact, the Pippin music “I Guess I’ll Miss the Man” is repurposed for Nicole to sing to her father on this dream sequence, and younger Blake Baumgartner nails it, singing with a quiet however piercing matter-of-factness.
We finish with Bob waking up within the psychiatric ward to which he has dedicated himself, having determined that not fairly all the pieces is vainness and chasing after the wind. There’s one relationship he hasn’t broken, one individual value happening for. His daughter nonetheless loves him and wishes him.
It’s a daring transfer for a present that has taken us thus far into this man’s darkness and despair to finish a cliffhanger on a be aware of hope, nonetheless tentative. However there are nonetheless inquiries to be answered. Can he be the person that his daughter wants him to be? What is going to that require of him? What is going to “going on” appear to be, and is it attainable to do extra than simply “go on” the way in which he has been? Selecting life was a begin, however solely a begin; determining learn how to dwell goes to be the arduous half.