For better or worse, FX's new series Fosse/Verdon doesn't really do any hand-holding for the musical theater neophytes who might be tuning in just to see the latest prestige limited series populated with movie stars. The show -- executive produced by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton), among others -- drops the viewer into the world of theater legends Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon, without much context. If you're an obsessive, you'll know that those blaring horns are from Sweet Charity's first act number, "Big Spender," written by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields. If you're not, you might be a bit lost.
In fact, almost all of the song and dance sequences in Fosse/Verdon are enhanced by a knowledge of the source material. The show's recreations are spot on -- enhanced by the wonderful work of Michelle Williams and Sam Rockwell as the title characters -- but little can compare to watching Verdon herself hoof it or Liza Minnelli sing "Mein Herr" from Cabaret.
But first, even more background. Based on Sam Wasson's biography of Fosse, the series aims to tell the story of the creative partnership and fractured romance between two greats of the American theater. He was the dancer, director and choreographer most famous for winning three parts of the EGOT (Emmy, Oscar, and Tony) in the same year for his work on the film Cabaret, the Broadway musical Pippin, and the television special Liza with a Z. She was a four-time Tony winner herself, who collaborated with her husband on shows like Damn Yankees and Chicago. Together, their work flourished, but Fosse was a notoriously bad partner on a personal level, cheating incessantly. They never divorced and continued working together, even as he embarked on a long relationship with dancer Ann Reinking.
Fosse famously performed a public exorcism of his personal demons in the 1979 film All That Jazz, in which Roy Scheider played a thinly veiled version of the director. Fosse/Verdon covers some of the same territory, but from a historical perspective, one that allows Verdon to be seen on her own terms rather than those dictated by her spouse.
Throughout the season, we'll be offering a primer for all the musical numbers you need to know to get the most out of the series. We'll be updating as long as the show is on the air. Here we go: Five, six, seven, eight...