Episode two of Fosse/Verdon titled “Who’s Got the Pain” performs an autopsy on the relationship of Gwen and Bobby, after he is discovered cheating on her with a German translator during production for Cabaret (1972). Flashbacks to their early relationship are juxtaposed with scenes of their present-day break-up, as Gwen who was once the mistress becomes the estranged wife.
Whatever Lola Wants…
Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse meet for the first time at Gwen’s reluctant audition for Damn Yankees, in a nuanced, masterfully crafted scene rife with understated verbal barbs and status play. She’s at a point in her career where being asked to audition is an affront, so she comes to the dance studio armed to her smiling teeth with subtle digs to remind Fosse exactly who he’s dealing with. From the first moments of their first meeting Gwen flexes her status — she casually mentions that the composer of Damn Yankees came to her apartment three months ago and played through the score to try and entice her into taking the role. Fosse, plays it cool. He knows that although Gwen is already a Broadway star, she’s still being forced by the production to audition for him. Despite all her clout, her reputation, her Tony award, Fosse is the one who really has the power in a scene that’s brimming with subtext as the two sniff each other out. There’s tension, some sexual and some competitive, that eventually resolves with an affair.
Goodbye, Old Girl
Talent is seductive, and Gwen and Fosse’s chemistry is amplified by their admiration for each other. Fosse in particular is enticed by the subtle changes that Gwen makes to his choreography — a premonition of how vital she will become in his later career. “That’s what Bobby does,” his deathly ill wife Joan McCracken tells Gwen, “he takes what’s special in a girl and he makes it his own.” This mirrors advice given to Gwen by Neil Simon’s wife, who also struggled with a husband who couldn’t bear to be outshined. And this is a relationship that Gwen admires! But for her and Bob Fosse, the issues go beyond simple ego and pride. An aging star, Gwen’s light is already dimming. Fosse drains her of her potential, takes credit for her creativity despite not being able to finish a film without her. But even beyond that, Fosse is a serial cheater, ending each old relationship with a new one.
You Gotta Have Heart
So knowing all this about Fosse’s relationship history — leaving spouse after spouse for a sparkly new leading lady, Gwen questions why she even began the relationship in the first place. This is where the show’s brilliant integration of musical numbers reveals the answer through the classic show tune “Heart”. In the context of Damn Yankees, the song is sung about a failing baseball team “A great slugger we haven’t got/A great pitcher we haven’t got/A great ball club we haven’t got,” but they do have hope. And that’s all Gwen is left with, upon deciding to pursue a relationship with Bob Fosse. “Nothin’s half as bad as it may appear/Wait’ll next year and hope…” Hope that this time the relationship will stick. Hope that the love between her and Fosse can overcome the guilt she feels about stealing a dying woman’s husband. Hope that despite all that’s against them, it can all work out happily ever after before the final curtain.
Fosse/Verdon continues Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. ET on the FX Network.
Photo and video credit: FX Network –
Read the previous review here