“Fosse/Verdon” certainly abounds in melodrama, but there are also parts of the eight-part miniseries to savor, especially if you’re a devotee of musical theater.
Created by Thomas Kail (the director of “Hamilton”) and Steven Levenson (”Dear Evan Hansen”), with “Hamilton” mastermind Lin-Manuel Miranda among the executive producers, “Fosse/Verdon” stars Sam Rockwell as choreographer-director Bob Fosse and Michelle Williams as singer-dancer-actress Gwen Verdon.
The miniseries, which premiered last year on FX and is available on Hulu, traces their turbulent romance and artistic connection, both of which flared to life (at least in this telling) when they first met, working out the dance steps to the 1955 Broadway production of “Damn Yankees.”
“Fosse/Verdon” offers glimpses of how musicals have been cobbled together over the decades in Broadway rehearsal studios and on Hollywood soundstages while also illustrating how a collaboration between kindred spirits can ignite the fire of creativity. Whenever Fosse is lost, he turns to Verdon, as when, in one scene, he implores her to help him figure out how to stage the opening number in “Pippin.”
The miniseries shines a welcome spotlight on Verdon, who is skillfully captured by the ever-subtle Williams, right down to the vocal quaver. (The actress won an Emmy for her performance, and spoke eloquently in her acceptance speech against gender and racial pay inequities in Hollywood.) Rockwell is fine as Fosse, but the brooding-self-destructive-male-genius archetype has gotten old. One tires of watching Fosse glower, smoke, and philander.
While the film version of “Cabaret” ensured Fosse’s immortality, performers like Verdon whose greatest achievements took place mainly on the stage can sometimes recede in cultural memory. So let the record show that Verdon won an astounding four Tony Awards in the 1950s: for “Can-Can” (in one scene in “Fosse/Verdon” she literally stops that show, the audience erupting in chants of “Verdon! Verdon!”); “Damn Yankees” (she reprised her role as Lola in the film version); “New Girl in Town”; and “Redhead.”
Verdon also originated the title role in the Fosse-directed “Sweet Charity” on Broadway in 1966 (although the part went to Shirley MacLaine in the 1969 movie version), and she was the original Roxie Hart in the Fosse-directed 1975 Broadway premiere of “Chicago,” opposite Chita Rivera as Velma Kelly and Jerry Orbach as Billy Flynn. Verdon was succeeded as Roxie by Ann Reinking, who was also romantically involved with Fosse for a time. Sadly, Reinking died last weekend.
She and Rivera are among the who’s who of other theater (and movie) names who are depicted or alluded to in “Fosse/Verdon,” including Neil Simon, Paddy Chayefsky, Ben Vereen, Liza Minnelli, Stephen Schwartz, George Abbott, Jerome Robbins, Stephen Sondheim, Michael Kidd, and the “Cabaret”/”Chicago” songwriting team of John Kander and Fred Ebb.
But ultimately, thanks to Williams, it’s Gwen Verdon who will stay with you.