Shifting power dynamics keep Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon at each other’s throats, and their lives inextricably tangled.
Much has been made of the artistic partnership between Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse — a whole television series, in fact — but the show in question seems to be culminating in the thesis that perhaps the two were doomed from the start. Bob Fosse cheated to be with her and later serially cheated on her. He took advantage of Gwen’s Broadway clout to make a career of his own, then continued to undermine her and take credit for her ideas and take advantage of her social graces for all the years that followed. And in this latest episode, “Nowadays”, we learn that even in making a child, Fosse fell short and Gwen had to compensate — to what degree, the question remains unanswered.
FOSSE VERDON — Pictured: (l-r) Michelle Williams as Gwen Verdon, Sam Rockwell as Bob Fosse. CR: FX Networks
Through both flashbacks and an impassioned monologue by a radiating Michelle Williams, it becomes even more clear that since Gwen brought Bob Fosse under her wing, it seems she can’t get anything done without him. This is including having a baby. And there’s nothing Fosse won’t screw up for her — including having a baby. When the pair visit a fertility specialist, they learn that Fosse’s sperm has low motility. Though the issue is with Fosse, it is Verdon who undergoes invasive, painful, and primitive medical procedures. Fertility medicine has come a long way since the 1960s, and the discomfort is visceral when Verdon’s cervix is opened and the camera flashes to her pained face, quickly followed by shots of the shots she must inject herself with. It’s so much to suffer through for a man who mere months earlier was cheating on her with a chorus girl from her own Broadway show.
Now, years later, Gwen has finally coaxed her husband into directing Chicago with her as the star, but the wait has been too long. The pair had discussed collaborating on the show for 15 years, but Verdon’s aging body simply can’t keep up with the demands of Fosse’s choreography. Something Fosse/Verdon does in such an excellent way is highlight how women’s careers in entertainment are so limited by their ageism. There’s an assumption that a Broadway audience can’t see any woman over 40 — it’s worse in Hollywood. Gwen Verdon is a spectacular dancer with charisma and artistic sensibility, who would be shelved if her husband weren’t the director.
Gwen Verdon is nearly always the victim of compromise. When she craves a new ending for the show, she is able to work influence on Fosse to get the number written. But then Fosse demands that she share it with her costar. The show ultimately opens to rave reviews for Verdon, but when she takes time off for a vocal injury, Liza Minnelli temporarily replaces her to even greater acclaim.
The penultimate episode of Fosse/Verdon Season One leaves the star-crossed pair equally berated. Gwen must come to terms with the reality that she is no longer an ingenue, and Fosse is grappling with an addiction to Dexedrine, and still sexually harassing chorus girls. The audience knows from flash-forwards that Fosse is headed towards an early death, and there’s just one episode left to show what he does with the time he has left.