I thought the first episode was extremely well-done and smart, and I liked how low-key it is, although I don’t find it overly compelling yet. But it’s just the first episode, so I’ll take “extremely well-done and smart” for starters, and expect that, being smart, it will build from that. (One challenge that the production has, as a friend noted, is that Bob Fosse himself already made the story, dynamically, in All That Jazz. In fairness, that was a two-hour film, and this is eight hours, minus commercials. Which is why I'm looking forward to the other areas it goes into.)
What I also loved -- and looked forward to further -- is that within minutes Fosse/Verdon begins with a musical number, the "Hey, Big Spender" song from the musical Sweet Charity..
Both lead actors, Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams, did very good jobs. But Williams has the more challenging role given that she was one of the most famous dancers in Broadway history. She also had a unique, quivering voice, and Williams impressively pretty much has the Verdon Quiver down, which I’d think would be very difficult to do.
I also look forward to future episodes because the whole cast is seriously impressive. And it's fun who they play, most particularly -- for my interest -- Neil Simon (Nate Cordry), Hal Prince (Evan Handler), Paddy Chayevsky (Norbert Leo Butz), Cy Feuer (Paul Reiser) -- all great casting – along with the Broadway greats George Abbott, Chita Rivera, Liza Minnelli, Joel Grey and Jerry Orbach.
My only serious “quibble” has absolutely nothing to do with the show, but is about the promotion. I've watched a couple of talk show interviews with Michelle Williams and Sam Rockwell, and both largely said the same thing – “Bob Fosse is really famous, but Gwen Verdon is pretty much unknown today, and this hopes to correct that..” How difficult would it have been to say more accurately and provide much-better promotion at the same time –
“Bob Fosse is really famous, and though Gwen Verdon is still considered one of the greatest dancers and performers in Broadway history, outside of Broadway she’s pretty much unknown.” Is that difficult?? And the thing is, as easy as that would be, even better would be to say it this way –
“Bob Fosse is really famous, and Gwen Verdon is still considered one of the greatest dancers and performers in Broadway history. She was the original star of Chicago, and the original star of Damn Yankees, and in the movie, too, and was the original star of Sweet Charity. And later in her career she even played Tom Selleck’s mother on Magnum, P.I. and starred in the hit movie Cocoon its sequel...Though outside of Broadway, she’s much more unknown.”
I don’t say this just for the sake of accuracy and because I know how famous Verdon still is on Broadway – but with my PR hat on. Because the whole point of them being on those talk shows is to promote the mini-series!! And it’s overwhelming world’s-better promotion to explain who someone is and why the audience should care instead of saying, “You don’t know her.” And one would think that, at the very least, the actress playing someone famous would want the audience to know that “I am playing someone really famous and incredible” rather than “I’m playing someone you don’t know.”
Here are a few videos. The first is a more general featurette about the mini-series -- with the filmmakers talking about it, along with brief clips.
Second, this is a more extended scene from the first episode. It comes from when the movie Cabaret is being made in Europe, and director Fosse arguing with legendary producer Cy Feuer (played, as mentioned, by Paul Reiser), about a problem with the gorilla suit that the costume department has come up with for the important and controversial song, "If You Could See Her Through My Eyes."
And finally, here are the real Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse together in the 1958 movie version of Damn Yankees, that Verdon had won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical on Broadway. Fosse choreographed the movie adaptation, and this was his only appearance in the film, which was uncredited.
By the way, over on his website, Mark Evanier passed along the fun observation that at the very end of the scene, as the two of them run off-stage, the film's male star Tab Hunter tells them how great they are -- and says, "That was terrific, Fosse!" Now, what I don't know is if this was a screw-up, though if so, one would think it would have been easily caught -- or if (because the character is so minor, it's not even referenced in the end credits) that this was an inside joke for giving the character a name. Either way, they sure did dance together...