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Fosse/Verdon, or Hating Fosse/Loving Verdon

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I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I’m watching Fosse/Verdon.

Listen, it’s a love/hate experience. I love the show, I hate how much time I spend thinking about and dissecting and googling (and making J google) and and and my head is ultimately overcrowded with this emotionally manipulating, universally lauded man’s life.

Yesterday, after watching the penultimate episode of the show — an episode that, frankly, felt like a “Well, Nicole Fosse is the producer” episode — I turned to baking and ranting. Seriously. I now have a freezer full of cookies (please come over) and J has maybe four or five new tabs open on his computer because of my questions.

Was Chicago the last show Bob and Gwen worked on together? What show was Ann Reinking in in 1975? What happened to the baby they were supposed to adopt? (How do you turn down an adoption — emotionally and logistically?) Why is Gwen undergoing so many fertility treatments when it’s Bob’s fault? And was Bob’s inability to have children supposed to make me think “Serves you right!” in a weird, reproduction exclusionary way? (As J reminded me, it’s not his personality and actions had nothing to do with his sperm count.)

“It sounds like you need to read the book,” J said.

Yeah. It sounds like I do.

When Fosse came out in 2012, I immediately added it to my TBR. Later that year, I started dating the author’s second cousin. (A fact I didn’t learn until, joking around in the car with J’s parents, I said “You mean Sam Wasson of Fosse by Sam Wasson?” Um, yeah. That one.)

The book has been out for seven years and every year I tell myself that I’m going to read it. Now that the show is off and I’m obsessing over what an awful man Bob Fosse was, I’m ready. What I wouldn’t give for a theatre class that interrogated these flawed “geniuses” and the women and who’ve done all of the actual leg work.

What I wouldn’t give for a Fosse/Verdon that commented on Bob Fosse’s destructive behavior.

Instead, nostalgia takes center stage. But what about Sweet Charity, Damn Yankees, Cabaret, Pippin, and Chicago? Where would those shows be without Bob Fosse? These are classics!

We can’t rewrite history. But what if a female director — a woman who’d been pushed out of the directing spotlight (Gwen Verdon) or had been oppressed by Fosse himself (literally every female ensemble dancer in every one of these shows) or someone unknown (um, how about this nameless choreographer we keep seeing!) was given the opportunity to step up and direct?

The closest we come to acknowledging that Bob Fosse would be #TimesUp #MeToo out of there if it was 2019 instead of the 1960s and 1970s is Gwen Verdon’s episode 7 monologue — a monologue that reveals that she’s the true star, she’s the gatekeeper to Fosse’s career. She could have said “no” to him directing Damn Yankees and Sweet Charity and then where would he be?

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Bob Fosse was a master emotional manipulator.

Well, at least his biopic counterpoint is. I won’t ever know if the real Bob Fosse lived through perfect dialogue and beautifully choreographed camera work. I won’t ever know if life always picked up on his good side, even when his choices were objectively bad.

He picks Gwen Verdon out of the cast of Damn Yankees with whispers of “You’re special” and promises to leave his wife. I don’t blame her for falling into the same cycle as the first Mrs. Fosse; it’s a vicious cycle — I love you, I’m powerful, I made a mistake.

I don’t spend any time wondering why Gwen Verdon stayed — why she kept working with him even after their marriage fell apart. Every second of every day, there’s a man somewhere in this country manipulating a woman he “loves.” And fighting back isn’t always an option. In an average month, 50 women in the U.S. are shot to death by intimate partners. I don’t have any data on emotional abuse, but that number is alarming to me. Fifty women. Fifty women.

Even after Bob Fosse was long gone, the public story from Verdon was that he was talented, hard working, and deserving of every job he received. In a 1993 Fresh Air interview with Terrie Gross, Verdon laughs that she always saw Fosse as her director, not her husband. Talk about a strong PR message.

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The final episode of Fosse/Verdon airs on Thursday.

I don’t think they’re going to address any of this, but I’m open to being surprised. In the meantime, let’s keep interrogating why we put abusers (of all genders!) on a pedestal. Because I’m sick of it. And I know I’m not the only one.