For eight weeks, FX is airing Fosse/Verdon, a restricted sequence about iconic choreographer/director Bob Fosse and legendary dancer Gwen Verdon, his spouse and artistic companion. Apart from being catnip for theater followers, their story raises ideas and questions on love, artwork, sacrifice, exploitation, abuse, and different subjects which are each well timed and timeless. This sequence explores each the aesthetic points of the present and its dealing with of these subjects.
Tright here’s no denying it: They made magic collectively.
The second episode of Fosse/Verdon captures the enjoyment of creation, as flashbacks take us to the primary time Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon labored collectively. Assembly in a rehearsal room for Rattling Yankees, the 2 circle one another throughout their first dialog, cautious however intrigued. She’s resentful (this cocky upstart desires to “audition” her for a task she’s already been provided!) however nonetheless nervous. He’s confident, however—as betrayed by his fidgetiness earlier than she walked into the room—additionally nervous.
She let herself change into a part of Bob’s personal private creation fable, his perception that his creativity required sacrifice and devotion from everybody else however him.They fight slightly one-upmanship: She’s gained a Tony Award; so has he. She danced in burlesque homes at 14, he at 13. They attempt to see who will be extra flippant in regards to the expertise. (Keep in mind this. It’s going to be essential later.) In a way, they’re dancing from the primary second they see one another.
However once they’re dancing for actual, it’s electrifying. As he begins to show her the steps for her massive solo quantity, “Whatever Lola Wants,” immediately the opponents are a group. And kudos to Michelle Williams and Sam Rockwell for the grace and talent with which they recreate the strikes of those two legendary artists all through this episode. They make what will need to have been staggeringly troublesome appear to be second nature. Each step, each gesture that Fosse can throw at her, Verdon can do—and add slightly one thing to make it even higher. His imaginative and prescient and her capability are already fusing into one.
As Joan McCracken, Bob’s spouse, will put it after witnessing Gwen’s triumph onstage in Rattling Yankees, “I’d say it’s like watching him up there, but it’s more like watching what he wishes he was.” And Joan understands that the affect goes each methods: “He takes what’s special in a girl and he makes it his own.”
Joan’s phrases aren’t only a praise; they’re a warning. She’s totally conscious that for Bob and Gwen, the enjoyment of creation is charged with one thing extra—the thrill of beginning an affair.
Herself a celebrated dancer and actress, Joan is now too unwell with diabetes and coronary heart issues to work a lot. When he’s with Joan, Bob is mild and solicitous, however when she’s out of sight, he has no qualms about dishonest on her with Gwen. Simply as, in episode 1, we noticed him dishonest on Gwen with Hannah. And simply as, Joan informs Gwen, he cheated with Joan herself on his first spouse, fellow dancer Mary Ann Niles.
A traditional man might need discovered someplace alongside the best way that he has a professionalblem. Bob Fosse isn’t a standard man. Within the parts of the episode set in 1971—after that fateful evening when Gwen turned up on the room the place he was sleeping with Hannah—as they hash issues out on a seashore in Spain, Bob can’t perceive why he can’t simply have every part he desires. He desires to come back again house, and to maintain seeing Hannah. He believes, or appears to imagine, that he can love each ladies on the identical time. His personal ache led him to threaten suicide, however seeing the ache he’s inflicting Gwen appears to have little or no impact on him.
The juxtaposition of those two storylines—the best way Gwen and Bob circle one another once more, however with inventive and romantic stress giving place to anguish—isn’t any accident. This was destined to occur the second their partnership grew to become extra than simply skilled. “I can’t take away a dying woman’s husband,” Gwen sobbed again in 1955 when she first discovered about Joan’s sickness. However ultimately, she may and did. She let herself change into a part of Bob’s personal private creation fable, his perception that his creativity required sacrifice and devotion from everybody else however him. Believing that they wanted one another not simply in work, however in life, Gwen has change into only one within the lengthy line of ladies whose imaginative and prescient and life each grew to become fused together with his—after which consumed.
When romance and creativity go collectively, it may be intoxicating. (I’ve written earlier than about how storylines like this have fueled among the finest film musicals ever made.) That thrilling pressure can pull out of us the perfect we have now to provide . . . however it will possibly’t droop the legal guidelines of morality. Not with out bitter penalties. Simply in case we didn’t get the purpose, the melody of “Whatever Lola Wants” echoes within the air, slower and extra melancholy now, as Gwen stands alone on that seashore in Spain pondering again on what appeared just like the hopeful beginnings of their life collectively.
The Rattling Yankees music we see Gwen dancing to onstage, within the 1955 storyline, is “Who’s Got the Pain?”, a novelty quantity with crowd-pleasing methods and nonsensical lyrics (“Who’s got the pain when they do the mambo? Who’s got the pain when they go ERP!” The closed-captioning says “UGH,” however it comes out extra like “ERP.”)* Bob and Gwen have thrown the quantity collectively on the final minute when one other quantity was lower from the present, sending Bob right into a tailspin and Gwen into full-on fix-it mode. Already, and in full view of her dismayed boyfriend and his resigned spouse, the sample of their relationship is being set.
The primary time the music is performed for them within the rehearsal room, Gwen is doubtful, however Bob fixates oddly on these foolish phrases. He sees one thing that appeals to him within the discrepancy between the cheerful melody and the lyrics’ give attention to ache. “We take what hurts and turn it into a big gag, and we’re singing and we’re dancing, and the audience, they’re yukkin’ it up, they’re laughing so hard that they don’t realize all they’re laughing at is a person in agony, a person who’s peeled off his own skin,” he explains.
His perspective ought to have warned Gwen that there was one thing beneath the “real joy” that Rattling Yankees producer Hal Prince noticed in Bob Fosse’s work, one thing deeper and darker than even essentially the most loving companion may cope with. However, maybe propelled by some harm from her personal previous that finds one thing in him to narrate to, she strikes previous it as she’s moved previous all different warnings and limits, and lets herself in for a world of ache.
*Attention-grabbing aspect be aware right here: “Who’s Got the Pain?” is the one quantity that Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse ever danced collectively in a film. When Rattling Yankees was tailored for the display, Fosse took the half initially danced on Broadway by Eddie Phillips. Bob and Gwen’s model shouldn’t be missed.