Broadway legends dance their way to the small screen with the help of musical theatre giant Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Since the cultural explosion that was Hamilton first punctured the mainstream, musical theatre has slowly but surely gained more widespread public interest. Movie musicals are nearly back in vogue (though some are far worthier than others), several stage productions are getting film adaptations (including not one, but two that involve Lin-Manuel Miranda), and famed Broadway composer Leonard Berstein is even getting competing biopics (I still haven’t decided if I’m #TeamJake or #TeamBradley).
Amidst Hollywood’s newfound fervor for the Great White Way, two of musical theatre’s biggest figures will be getting the cinematic treatment. FX has announced they’ve ordered a limited series about Broadway choreographer Bob Fosse and performer Gwen Verdon, whose creative partnership was as fascinating as their romantic pairing. The series will be based on “Fosse,” the biography by Sam Wassman. Sam Rockwell is set to star as Fosse, and Michelle Williams will play Verdon.
Just as exciting as the series’ cast and subjects is its creative team. Working behind the scenes will be a selection of Broadway’s modern royalty. Miranda, the creator and star of Hamilton, is set to produce; Thomas Kail, director of Hamilton, will helm the pilot episode; and Steven Levenson, who penned the book for Dear Evan Hansen, will write and run the series. Fosse and Verdon’s daughter Nicole Fosse will also produce.
A show about two of the greatest dancers the world has ever seen will also require some pretty excellent footing — luckily, Tony Award winner Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton) will honor Fosse and Verdon’s skill and style as the series’ choreographer.
Enlisting a team of Broadway heavyweights — all bringing with them experience, expertise, and dozens of Tonys — is crucial to telling this distinctly Broadway story the right way. Fosse and Verdon are legendary within the musical theatre community; their creative union and their individual careers remain unparalleled. It’s crucial that those who fully understand their foundational legacies will be behind the camera to tell their stories.
Bob Fosse is perhaps best known as the famed Broadway choreographer who, over the course of his career, won nine Tony Awards, choreographed classic musicals like Pippin and Chicago, and crafted his own iconic signature style of dance.
But Fosse also played a crucial role in film history. He choreographed several successful musical adaptations, including The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees. He also directed a total of five feature films, including Sweet Charity and his masterpiece, Cabaret. Among Caberet‘s eight Oscar wins, Fosse took home Best Director — beating out Francis Ford Coppola for The Godfather. A gifted performer, innovative choreographer, and award-winning film director, Bob Fosse continues to loom large in the world of musical theatre.
Verdon is an equally groundbreaking pioneer in her craft. A four-time Tony Award winner, she is frequently regarded as one of the best — and surely the most formative — dancers to ever grace the Broadway stage. And don’t get it twisted: Verdon was much, much more than a mere muse to Fosse. She was an equal collaborator, having worked as a choreographer and dance teacher to stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, and Jane Russell. Verdon was also a certified triple-threat, originating many iconic roles such as Roxie Hart in Chicago and Lola in Damn Yankees.
Seeing the pair in action — especially in synchronized motion — is mesmerizing. Their combination of mastery, control, and innovative style is a sight to behold, a triumph of movement. We can only hope the series will be able to capture their brilliance, seen here:
To any Broadway fanatic, the news of a miniseries about Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon is immediately exciting. But it is also worth considering what our leads will bring to the roles, especially as they portray two of Broadway’s architects.
First up: Sam Rockwell as Bob Fosse. Fosse has already been portrayed in his 1979 semi-autobiographical fantasy All That Jazz, which he co-wrote and directed. In All That Jazz, Roy Scheider plays director and choreographer Joe Gideon, a blatantly obvious Fosse doppelgänger. Scheider is fantastic, obviously. But he’s also no dancer, and the film rarely shows Fosse — I mean, Gideon — in action.
Rockwell, on the other hand, can absolutely dance. And not only can he dance, he very clearly loves to dance. On the late night circuit, Rockwell clearly gets a kick out of getting his groove on, whether it be playing a game of dance improv or just getting to his seat (one YouTuber even went so far as to call him a “Dancing Machine”). We already know the Oscar winner is an incredible actor, and knowing he can dance gives us all the more faith that he can honor the role of Fosse. Check out some of his sweet moves:
Now for Michelle Williams as Gwen Verdon. Williams is something of a chameleon and pulls off just about every role she takes on. Her most recent musical turn in The Greatest Showman didn’t really give her much to do, except mostly stand around and do some heavily autotuned singing. In one brief sequence, she does do some pretty frantic dancing that certainly proves she has stamina and a real skill for choreography (even bad choreography).
We also know from her 2014 stint on stage as Sally Bowles in Cabaret that she has what it takes for real musical theatre. Her Broadway debut was well received, although there is little footage to prove her dancing chops alongside her talents for acting and singing. For the fun of it, we might as well glean what we can from this brief but very entertaining Tony Awards preview of her performance:
For Broadway fanatics like myself, this series is happening under the best possible circumstances: a network that does excellent work, a production team that has decades of combined musical theatre experience, and a cast that is dramatically gifted and musically competent.
The show is also, especially for Verdon, an incredibly well-deserved and overdue act of recognition. When Fosse and Verdon died, in 1987 and 2000 respectively, the lights were dimmed on Broadway in their honor. As moving a gesture as that is, it is also ephemeral. Now, the pair’s brilliance and innovation will be immortalized and shared with millions of viewers who will likely learn their remarkable story for the first time — I’ll tip my hat to that.