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Fosse/Verdon: The Beat Goes On

December 04, 2019

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I’d like to revisit the Fosse/Verdon series that I wrote about earlier. CLICK HERE to read about this year’s Tony Awards.

This series is based on a heavily researched biography titled Fosse by Sam Wasson who is a visiting professor of film at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.

An ad that appeared to publicize this remarkable TV series

BUT THAT WAS JUST THE BEGINNING

A dramatic, yet completely honest script and a talented cast of actors were needed for this challenging series. Enter Nicole Fosse, the daughter of the storied couple, who was an executive producer and historical consultant on the series. When the writers delved into Verdon’s life Nicole often had to fill in the gaps. Melissa Toth, the show’s costume designer notes that, “We couldn’t have done a lot of our work without her.”

Also on board were Tony-winning director Thomas Kail (Hamilton) and writer Steven Levenson (Dear Evan Hansen) -- the creators of Fosse/Verdon. All told there were four directors and eight writers who worked on the scripts for this show.

AN EMPHASIS ON THE UNVARNISHED TRUTH

According to an in-depth article about Fosse/Verdon by Julie Miller in Vanity Fair’s Awards Extra, the portrayal of Fosse (played by Sam Rockwell) was questioned. Or, as one viewer said to Nicole, “They made your father out to be a crazed drug addict.”

She responded by pointing out that, “he ended up in a psychiatric ward.” This happened shortly after Bob became the first person to win an Oscar (Cabaret), Tony (Pippin) and Emmy (Liza With a Z) in the same year – a truly remarkable achievement. Gwen (played by Michelle Williams in the series) won four Tony awards for her musical comedy performances. 

In 2017, Nicole opened her archives for the first time and shared her real-life memories with Kail and Levenson. She notes that, “We’re always hiding something, and there will always be shame. It’s very important to tell the truth.”

REVEALED: FOSSE AND VERDON WERE COLLABORATORS

Nicole’s candid discussions with the creators of the series brought out a crucial dimension of her father’s life that had gone undetected in his many biographies: the extent to which her father and mother were creative collaborators. (Personally, I find this fact absolutely fascinating.)

The real deal: Fosse with Verdon while directing 1969’s Sweet Charity based on his Broadway production

After many discussions with Nicole, it became clear to Kail and Levenson that the series should not be focused on Fosse alone, but on their marriage, with each character getting 50-50 billing. The writers also applaud Nicole and describe her as “an open book who demanded that we always go deeper and work harder to tell the truth.” 

My fascination with this series came from seeing the incredible “Sturm und Drang” that went into the award-winning careers of two people who are married to each other. It’s an incredible back-story to the effort, stamina and energy that’s required to maintain this type of high-level creative life.

Bob Fosse showing his dancers how it’s done

HERE’S MY VERY FAVORITE SPEECH ABOUT CREATIVITY

This is what Orson Welles had to say in the film, The Third Man. “In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love and five hundred years of democracy and peace. What did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

All photos courtesy of Vanity Fair Awards Extra

Shaun Nelson-Henrick



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