If you’re a Pippin fan, this is your episode. Between the rock ‘n’ roll take on “Simple Joys,” the underscoring of “Corner of the Sky,” tons of rehearsal footage (including drilling the “Manson Trio”) and that epic finale, the whole episode (directed with trippy beauty by Jessica Yu) climaxes in Bob Fosse’s inner mental turmoil represented by the musical finale—just as only the best musical theatre can do.
Last episode was all about Gwen, but this one explores Bob—not as a man chasing success but one finds it's meaningless when he has it. Rockwell manages to pull off all aspects of this genius: the hubris, the consuming doubt, the womanizing, the choreographing, the desperation, all while causing us to admire Bob one moment, question that admiration the next, and admire all over again.
STEP BY STEP: WHAT HAPPENED IN THE STORY OF BOB AND GWEN THIS WEEK
We begin at the movie premiere of Cabaret, but Bob can’t bear to watch—not after what happened with Sweet Charity. But Cy wants him to get in there, “You’re about to be the director of the hottest picture of the year.” (How right he is.) But Bob doesn’t believe it and skips the movie and the party.
But Paddy does not appreciate that. He’s pounding on Bob’s hotel room door (yes, he and Gwen still live apart) to show him that it’s been “3 years since Sweet Charity flopped” and Cabaret is a hit. “ ‘Cabaret is a stunning entertainment.’ ‘An exuberant marriage of talent and intelligence.’ Bobby, reviews like these you’ve got a blank check.”
And for the first time, we see him feel that power. Pippin rehearsal: Gone is the insecure dancer with his head hanging. Here is the straight-backed confident director. He’s ready to reconceive Pippin—his way. The kid with the ’70s bowl cut, that’s a young Stephen Schwartz, Pippin’s composer-lyricist. And he’s definitely intimidated by his hotshot director-choreographer. He and—possibly uncredited book writer Roger O. Hirson?—are looking at Bob like he’s nuts.
“I know that look,” Bob says. “That’s the same look Cy Feuer gave me every day on the set of a little movie called Cabaret.” (Look who’s feeling himself.) “Remember that look ladies and germs, it means we’re onto something good. We’re gonna take what’s here, we’re gonna blow it all up, we’re gonna see what happens. I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun.”
Meanwhile, things are blowing up in Gwen’s life; her best friend Joan is in the hospital. And, as it turns out, things aren’t going well with her play, Children! Children!—but more on that in a moment.
Back in rehearsals for Pippin, Bob is working on the dance numbers. Can we just watch Simmons as Ben Vereen and the rest of this cast dance for the rest of the episode?
As Cabaret’s domestic box office is rising, Bob is leveraging his power. He’s running through his chorus girls more like flavors of the day than flavors of the week (though there is one, Annie aka Ann Reinking, who isn’t playing along). And Gwen knows about it all. She stops by to ask him to come to help with the play just two weeks before opening. This is the second time we see Gwen lean on Bob for creative support. Will he get it right this time? Not a shot.
“Simple Joys” plays in the background of his trysts and then suddenly he’s greeting Gwen in her dressing room on opening night—also closing night. Bob never did show up to rehearsal and fix that play.
Though Bob goes home with his doe-eyed chorine that night, just a few days later he’s interested in Cheri. [TRIGGER WARNING] Bob walks her home and asks to come upstairs. She’s politely turning him down, but he’s not taking no for an answer. He asks for a kiss just on the cheek—yup, turns his face and kisses her on the mouth. And he’s pushing and pushing and she’s objecting until she knees him in the groin. Though difficult to watch, this is exactly the type of scene we need to demonstrate the kind of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario subordinate women deal with far too often. Because the next day in rehearsal, while working on the now famous “Manson Trio” Bob is nit-picking and criticizing and jabbing. (It’s like Gwen’s director all over again, but actual harassment.) He tells Annie to step in.
(Side note: Gwen got the rights to Chicago. Bob says he’s too busy. We’ll see about that.)
Back in the hospital, Gwen is living in denial, talking about hosting a dinner for Joan when she leaves the hospital, but Joan knows she’s dying: “It’s bad enough I have to coddle Neil, don’t make me coddle you as well.” The look on Michelle Williams’ face is sheer heartbreak. But what comes next is even worse, because just when you think Joan is about to ask Gwen to look after her daughter when she’s no longer there to be a mom, Joan actually asks Gwen to look after her own daughter, Nicole.
Though Bobby can’t seem to figure out the ending to Pippin, and Gwen prioritizes herself and her new boyfriend Ron over Bobby’s ridiculous phone calls, he starts racking up the awards: Tonys for Pippin, Oscars for Cabaret, Emmys for Liza With a Z. He’s partying too much and too fast. He may be taking home gold, but home is a hotel room with a crappy dresser in lieu of a mantle.
Distressed, he takes his Oscar and, like a common bum, waddles down the street to his former home. And he slides into bed beside Gwen…but she is not alone! Ron is there and he punches Bob right in the face—and Nicole saw it all.
Back at his hotel, Bobby contemplates suicide again. Ben Vereen and his Pippin players appear and, as they sing the Pippin finale and try to coax him into the ultimate finale out the hotel room window and a couple stories down, Bob is buying into it. He’s really going to jump, but then he hears Nicole’s voice. She’s singing “I Guess I’ll Miss the Man” (another song from Pippin). Gwen and Ben and the ladies crave their spectacular ending, cheering and jeering, but Nicole brings him back to reality. He has something to live for and he backs away from the window. “Coward,” Gwen says with disdain. “Compromiser,” Ben scoffs. “Schmuck,” Paddy sneers.
And then Bob has the phone in his hand. “9-1-1” the operator answers. And suddenly, he waking in a psych ward.
NAME-DROPPING: FILLING IN THE BLANKS BEHIND THE REFERENCES
· Cabaret movie premiere. In 1995, Cabaret was the ninth live-action musical film selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
· “I can’t wait to watch them watch that last shot,” Cy tells Bob. The last shot of the film Cabaret is much like its stage predecessor: It’s a distorted mirror reflecting an audience that now includes Nazi soldiers.
· At the time of Pippin rehearsals, Stephen Schwartz was only 24 years old. The show marked his Broadway debut score. He had one previous credit for the title song of Butterflies Are Free, a 1969 play. Though Godspell was a hit Off-Broadway, it did not bow on the Main Stem until 1976.
· Joan Baim Simon died in 1973 at the age of 41 of bone cancer. She and Neil had been married for 20 years and had two children, their daughters Nancy and Ellen.
· Cabaret’s grossed a total of $42,765,000 at the domestic box office.
· Children! Children! was, indeed, short lived. It played 13 preview performances and one regular performance: its opening night March 7, 1972, at the Ritz Theatre (now the Walter Kerr).
· The original “Manson Trio” was Leading Player Ben Vereen with Players Pamela Sousa and Candy Brown. Sousa still teaches the original choreography through American Dance Machine to pass on the intention and dance movement of Bobby’s routine.
· In 1973, when Bob was racking up the awards, he was catching up to Paddy (and surpassing him). Paddy had written four Broadway plays at that point: Middle of the Night, The Tenth Man, Gideon, and The Passion of Josef D. He had been nominated for Tony Awards in 1960 for Tenth Man and again in 1962 for Gideon, but never walked away with the trophy. He was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay for The Goddess, ultimately winning three for Marty, The Hospital, and Network.