Roush Review: ‘Fosse/Verdon’ Exults in Its Depiction of the Creative Process

FOSSE VERDON - Michelle Williams, Sam Rockwell
Pari Dukovic/FX

Edison’s formula for genius — 1 percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration — may have found its greatest avatar in the legendary choreographer-director Bob Fosse. In his bump-and-grind chorus line, the sweatier and more sensual the better.

A perpetually smoking volcano of obsessive perfectionism and neurotic insecurity, Fosse would never be satisfied, even after making showbiz history. He’s still the only person to win an Oscar (Cabaret), Emmy (Liza With a Z) and Tony (Pippin) in the same year. But he couldn’t have done it without his muse and long-suffering soulmate, the dynamic Broadway musical star Gwen Verdon. Lover, wife, mother and invaluable sounding board, she endured his serial indiscretions in the pursuit of art, changing the look and tone of stage and film musicals forever.

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Their brilliant collaboration and turbulent relationship make for serious entertainment in the gaudy glory of Fosse/Verdon, a biographical drama every bit as daring and razzle-dazzling as the best of Fosse. Kaleidoscopic in visual flair as it jumps around the decades, unsparing in tawdry detail, Fosse/Verdon exults in its depiction of the creative process in dingy rehearsal halls and on glittery stages. Produced by Tony-winning talents behind modern-day Broadway blockbusters Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen, the series captures the seductive sizzle and erotic precision of Fosse’s classic routines without ever making it look easy.

“We take what hurts and we turn it into a big gag,” says Fosse, brought to life in all of his sheepish charm and raw arrogance by Oscar winner Sam Rockwell. “What they’re laughing at is a person in agony, a person who’s peeling off his own skin.” Channeling the slinky and sexy Verdon, an incandescent Michelle Williams radiates warmth and pain in equal measure as their partnership hits the heights of public adulation amid private desolation.

(Credit: Eric Liebowitz/FX)

While Fosse clearly worships her, the would-be Astaire also envies Verdon’s star charisma. Wallowing in drug-addled misery and lost in memory, the tortured artist hears the sound of tapdancing in his head as scenes from his past shimmer before him, reminding Fosse of his mortality. (Title cards tell us how much time he has left.) Thankfully, the fruit of their labors is immortal, and Fosse/Verdon earns its own standing ovation.

Fosse/Verdon, Series Premiere, Tuesday, April 9, 10/9c, FX