The dream team is back! Steven Levenson and Joel Fields return to the head of the writer’s table and Thomas Kail sits firmly in the director’s chair and it is glorious. While the past two weeks have been focused close-ups on the emotional dynamics between Fosse and Verdon, this week we get that and a dance.
Episode 7 features “All That Jazz,” “We Both Reached for the Gun,” “Razzle Dazzle,” two versions of “Nowadays,” and oh it’s heaven. This episode showcases musical storytelling in its prime, as Kail uses what’s happening in the world of making Chicago to parallel what’s happening for Bob and Gwen. More, I say!
We only have one more week after this, so let’s make it count and take it from the top!
Photos: Fosse/Verdon Episode 7: "Nowadays"
STEP BY STEP: WHAT HAPPENED IN THE STORY OF BOB AND GWEN THIS WEEK
We open with the wail of the “All That Jazz” trumpet. And, really, how else do you open the Fosse/Verdon episode about Chicago if not that? Gwen is our master of ceremonies this time and this alter ego of hers will pop up just as Bob’s stand-up comedian person did last week. She’s conducting the show.
But in 1960 she was losing control. “2 years before trying to get the rights to Chicago” Gwen was throwing (and I mean strong-arming) mugs, plates, anything she could find at Bob’s head. This would be the first affair (that she knew of). He slept with a girl in her show, which would have been Redhead. “It won’t happen again.” “It didn’t mean anything.” Remember in Episode 2 when they were on the beach and Gwen said she was done playing the same old bit? Well welcome to preview period folks. (And bravo to the writers for closing that loop.)
Gwen is wild with anger until she has nothing left, and their both laying among the rubble. What is Bob’s response? To propose. So MC Gwen steps in:
You’re about to witness a story of grief,
Bob: I can’t live without you.
Bob: I wanna have a baby with you
Bob: I wanna be with you forever
Bob: I wanna have a family with you.
…All the things we hold near and dear to our hearts.
[Slow. Clap.] They wove in the opening lines of Chicago into the intro of the episode! And if you don’t know the lines from Chicago, you might just think this was written for the TV series. No words.
Chicago. 1975. 1st rehearsal after Bob Fosse’s return from the hospital. Bob’s having a hard time focusing during the rehearsal for the opening number. (How much do we love Bianca Marroquin as Chita? The fire!) Rehearsal is intercut with scenes of Bob and Paddy at lunch, Bob confiding in his best friend that the doctors messed him up. He can’t eat. He can’t think. He can’t focus. His body has no idea how to be sober.
But then he stops rehearsal. And we get the first brilliant monologue (a mini one) of the night all because Bob cannot stand the cheesing it up happening onstage:
This is a show about killers. This is a show about people who use people to get what they want and then they leave them for dead and they pretend to the whole world like their Christian mourners. Like they’re saints. But guess what that’s’ all smoke and mirrors. You’re murderers and you’re liars. That’s who you are. Dance like that.
Damn if Steven Levenson doesn’t know how to write a monologue.
When they run the number one more time, we get to see this beautiful chorus of dancers go dark and mad—deviousness pokes through. “You like that Gwen?” Bob asks. And I dig it because once again he relies on her eye in this partnership.
Back from commercial, Gwen is alone in a dark studio warming up. (Love the instrumental of the “We Want Billy” intro to “All I Care About”. Thanks Alex Lacamoire.) I love seeing this side of Gwen. Hear me out. We’ve watched her dance before, from her Lola audition to “Who’s Got the Pain?” but this is different. This is about the toll that dancing like that takes on the body. Gwen is 50 hear. 50! I REPEAT: She did Chicago when she was 50 years old!!! Attention must be paid to the skill, discipline, and fitness building a new show and dancing it 8 times a week (at 50!) takes. Thanks, Tommy Kail, for that.
Then we go to rehearsal for “We Both Reached For the Gun” (my personal favorite). It’s the “9th rehearsal after Bob Fosse’s return from the hospital” and both Bob and Gwen are suffering. Bob is jonesing; he needs his dexedrine so badly he asks John Kander to get it for him. Gwen can’t keep up with the number, so Bob changes it. She’s no longer a marionette played by puppet master Billy Flynn (aka Jerry Orbach aka Tyler Hanes); she’s a ventriloquist dummy. No one seems happy about it.
Paddy and Bob meet up and Bob asks his true friend to hook him up. But Paddy is a true friend, so he won’t do it and there’s this gem of an exchange (“You listen to me, you want to kill yourself there’s not a damn thing I can do about it but I’m not gonna be the one to put the bullets in the chamber.” “That’s a little dramatic.” “Well I’m a dramatist and you’re a lunatic.”) that ends in Paddy threatening to give a terrible eulogy at Bob’s funeral.
Later, Bob and Gwen (and Ron) sit in the audience of Nicole’s dance recital, but Gwen is using the time to corner Bob about the ending of the show—one that isn’t working for her. They’re in previews now and Gwen wants a final number. And here’s something we haven’t seen from Gwen before: She manipulates Bob into getting what she wants. We know she has the wiles to do it. (Remember that doctor she autographed into getting Bob a private room?) But we have yet to see her take Bob’s weakness—other’s opinions of him—and wield it like a scythe. “I stick by you on every decision you’ve made in this show. But I have to tell you what people are saying about you….” In the end, Bob agrees to have Fred and John write her a number.
Gwen and Ron go to drop Nicole off at Ann and Bob’s—Ann didn’t make the recital because of rehearsal. Gwen tells what she knows is a lie about Bob working in the studio. Meanwhile we see him with a chorus girl at her apartment. But he’s not up to his old tricks. No. He wants that Dexedrine. She says yes, because what do you do when the man who employs you needs something? Then when she says it’s getting late, he says he’s not tired and wants a night cap. And there it is.
When we come back to Bob and Gwen, our Roxie Hart is singing her new solo finale “Nowadays” and everyone is thrilled with the number, especially her co-star Chita. But Bob wants to hear it again. He thinks it might be a duet. And if we thought his speech about Chicago being a dark show was a beauty, well, friends, that was just the appetizer because Gwen is serving up the main course. It’s too good to type here. That would strip it of its integrity. Watch. It. If you’ve seen it once, watch it again. Because Michelle Williams is here to slay. As Gwen, she unleashes 15 years of anger, blood-boiling hurt, and resentment. She supported him and cleared a path for him as a director-choreographer and he sped off leaving her in the dust. And she goes for the jugular when she calls him out on failing at being the star that she is.
But no matter. The song is a duet as we see on “Opening Night.” And it’s fabulous. Watch Bianca nail that choreography to the wall!
At the “Opening Night Afterparty” the critics seem to agree with Gwen. The Times loved her, but not the show. And as they glare at each other from across the room, it actually feels like the first time they are truly against each other. And the smashing comes back in a 1960 flashback.
But then they’re in a doctor’s office, and you just know it’s an OB/GYN (six-time Tony nominee Danny Burstein, in fact, and his gregarious self!). He recognizes Gwen, but no idea who Bob is. They’re having trouble conceiving and Bob’s sperm are the problem. Another explanation of the constant concern with his manhood. Yet, I will point out, it’s interesting that all of the treatments and procedures are for Gwen to endure. How is that a thing?
But it’s not working and they decide to adopt. As MC Gwen sings “Razzle Dazzle,” Gwen gives the tour of their “perfect, happy home.”
Back to 1975 “5 weeks after opening” and Bob comes into Gwen’s dressing room. He’s been reading the performance reports and Gwen’s been struggling vocally. Turns out she has blisters on her vocal chords from ingesting confetti from the cannons. She doesn’t want to do it because she’ll have to leave the show for at least six weeks. But Bob wants her to take care of herself. In the most loving way he jokes “You don’t get the surgery, you’re fired.” Her health is not up for debate.
Flashback, Bob is in the apartment choreographing instead of putting a crib together for their adopted baby’s arrival. But then Gwen faints. She’s pregnant (and Bob doesn’t understand how he’s the father). Flash forward, Bob is at the theatre after the show and tells Gwen he got Liza (as in Minnelli) to fill in for her so she can have surgery and that he got everyone to agree to no press and no ads (as in all the press and all the ads) until she gets back. And he has the nerve to call her while she is on vocal rest—while she is LITERALLY SILENCED—to tell her “there was nothing he could do.” But don’t worry, the critics like the show more now. Talk about going for the jugular.
Staying silent would have killed Gwen, so she speaks instead. He needed it for his ego because now the show is a hit—not just her. He’s the genius and she’s the star who didn’t show up. And as Ann witnesses Bob’s end of the phone call, the sadness for a woman she respects washes over her face.
Ron wants Gwen to quit, but clearly she’d rather die. She wants to go back to set Nicole up, she says. But the truth is that with Gwen’s contract, she made royalties regardless of performing. Gwen needs to perform—and I am here for that. I’m not here for masking it as something for Nicole, but I am here for a woman doing what feeds her soul.
So back to the 46th Street Theatre she goes, greeting her stage door man and signing in on the call board. (Shout out to the stage door folks of Broadway who legitimately take amazing care of the people inside their theatres!) As Gwen sits in her star dressing room, tossing out the note from Liza, she remembers when Nicole was first born and she and her best friend Joan sat together rocking their babies, and Bob looked at her from across the room with admiration.
NAME-DROPPING: FILLING IN THE BLANKS BEHIND THE REFERENCES
- Some perspective on 1960 when Bob and Gwen are fighting: Gwen had already done six Broadway shows, making her debut in Magdalena, getting that seven-minute standing O in Can-Can, and then she and Bob did Damn Yankees, New Girl in Town, and Redhead together.
- Bianca Marroquin plays Chita Rivera in the show, who plays Velma. But Bianca has actually been playing Roxie on Broadway (in the 1996 long-running revival) on and off since 2002.
- In “We Both Reached for the Gun,” we get to see some action from Billy Flynn aka Jerry Orbach (played here by Tyler Hanes!) and Mary Sunshine aka M. O’Haughey (played here by Sean Patrick Doyle). It’s worth mentioning that Jerry was 40 at the time and Chita was 42—and damn talented.
- When it comes to Ann, the Fosse/Verdon writers do play with timing a bit here. In 1975, Ann Reinking starred in Goodtime Charley, which began previews February 20, opened March 3, and closed May 31. So she would have been in the show at the time that Chicago was in previews, as Fosse/Verdon suggests. Less likely that she had a rehearsal—but storytelling. Ann was nominated for her role as Joan of Arc in Goodtime Charley. It was a “stacked category” that included Bernadette Peters for Mack & Mabel, Lola Falana for Doctor Jazz, and Angela Lansbury for Gypsy, who ended up taking home the statue. But, the ceremony took place April 20, 1975, at the Winter Garden Theatre that year. So by May, everyone would have known that Ann didn’t win. Still, it’s a great way to throw in tidbits that suggest Ann’s growing star power and prowess in the industry.
- Gwen spent the entire dance recital complaining about the end of the show and so Johnny and Fred wrote her a closing solo, “Nowadays.” True, it was written as a solo. True, Chita did say “Well finally. We got a closing f*cking number!” And true, Bob decided it should be a duet for Gwen and Chita. THE monologue, however, may not have been true. In Sam Wasson’s book, there’s no account of Gwen laying into Bob like that—and the biography gets pretty real. We also know that Gwen and Chita were the absolute closest of friends. Chita often dedicates the song to Gwen during her cabaret shows now. So Gwen probably didn’t release years of pent up fury—but that’s some damn good drama.
- Tony Walton was the scenic designer for the original Chicago. On “Opening Night” we catch a glimpse at a re-creation of his set.
- During the opening night afterparty, there’s a remark about Chicago taking home all the Tonys. Bob quips, “Tell that to Michael Bennett.” A Chorus Line had just opened Off-Broadway to monumental buzz, and inevitably transferred to Broadway later that season, earning 12 Tony nominations to Chicago's 11. They were up against each other in every nominated category except for Featured Actor in a Musical. Chicago did not take home a single trophy. A Chorus Line won Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical for James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, Best Score for Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban, Best Actress for Donna McKechnie, Best Featured Actor for Sammy Williams, Best Featured Actress for Carole Bishop (now Kelly Bishop), Best Lighting for Tharon Musser, Best Choreography for Michael Bennett and Bob Avian, and Best Direction for Michael Bennett. But the Chicago revival is the longest-running American musical on Broadway. (The Phantom of the Opera is the longest-running writ large.)
- During the adoption interview, we get to roam the apartment we’ve been loafing around for the past six weeks and my goodness thank you for the tour! Bob and Gwen lived in the penthouse of 91 Central Park West, at the corner of 69th Street. (Side note: Aaron Krohn plays the adoption lawyer; he recently starred in Summer: The Donna Summer Musical on Broadway.)
- Performance reports are a real thing. Stage managers are the eyes and ears of the director for every performance once a show opens. (Associate directors are the second in command, and check in frequently, but not every single night for the full duration of the show.) Stage managers complete nightly performance reports that include notes about anything that went wrong, notes they give to performers, audience reactions (“great house tonight”), what time the curtain went up and down. So when Bob says he’s been reading the performance reports, he means he’s been reading the stage manager’s notes that Gwen’s performance has been lacking.
- Bob did re-choreograph numbers when Liza came into the show. Clive Barnes wrote the review for The New York Times. It’s true: He did like it more a second time. But he also notes in his review that there was little publicity around Liza’s appearance in the show and adds that one could never compare Liza and Gwen. Read it here.