Bravo, editing—and I’m not talking about what’s going on in Fosse’s Lenny editing room. Editor Jonah Moran, director of photography Tim Ives, and director Minkie Spiro of “All I Care About Is Love,” the sixth episode of Fosse/Verdon, deserve major kudos for their complexity and precision as we toggle back and forth between Fosse’s reality, his imagined reality as a stand-up comedian truth-telling a là Lenny Bruce, and flashbacks to his childhood. The quick cuts and the time-jumping…that’s hard work, people.
This episode is of the ilk of Episode 5, continuing to hone in on Bob’s obsession with his work and the motivation behind it—a motivation that is killing him—and away from too many musical numbers. But once again, the writers (this time led by Ike Holter) capture the singular dynamic between Fosse and Verdon—which is what we’re all here for, right? And I truly mean singular. Have you ever witnessed anything like them? Is there another partnership that operates this way? I’m honestly asking.
If “Me and My Baby” was Williams’ episode, “All I Care About Is Love” is Rockwell’s—fitting as they’re named for Roxie Hart and Billy Flynn’s songs, respectively.
But, as they say, let’s take this baby from the top!
STEP BY STEP: WHAT HAPPENED IN THE STORY OF BOB AND GWEN THIS WEEK
We begin in a familiar setting: the editing room. Bob has a familiar look on his face: nausea. He’s watching the footage of Dustin Hoffman (three-time Tony nominee Brandon Uranowitz!) as Lenny Bruce in Lenny. It’s 1974 and “17 months since Bob Fosse’s last award.” (A long time if you’re Bob Fosse?)
While what he’s watching makes him want to vomit, Gwen busts into the room. She needs his approval on the artwork for Chicago, or as the guys from the advertising agency (The Blaine Thompson Company) put it, they needed it a week ago. But the film studio is on the phone, Gwen demands answers, the editor needs to know what comes next, and the tapping is back in Bob’s brain. What’s different this time is he’s feeling it—and as he squeezes his hand, we see the foreshadowing of the heart attack we know is coming.
We’re thrust into the black-and-white world of Fosse’s own “stand-up” act. (He did say he should have played the part himself.) But Fosse’s act is more a self-flagellating confessional than anything else: “I just finished directing a picture called Lenny. The film’s the story of Lenny Bruce the comedian, never got the recognition he deserved. Drug addict, adulterer, shit father, shit husband. Boy oy boy if I could only relate to this guy.” He’s spiraling. The movie that should have taken eight weeks to shoot took six months.
As he continues his routine, we see him having distracted sex with Ann, him frustrated with “making a musical out of thin air”; he can’t get what he wants out of Fred (Ebb) and John (Kander), and now he’s in rehearsals building Chicago’s opener “All That Jazz.” But he’s cheating on Ann with the office girl, and he’s telling jokes, and cut, cut, cut, cut. Editing, folks.
(Side note: Shoutout to the show’s demonstration of what it is to direct a musical. Yes, you are “making it out of thin air.” You shape the show. It’s not just being handed a script and blocking.)
Back at home with Gwen, Ron is still in the picture and Nicole is a bit older. (In the fall of 1974 she would have been 11.) It’s the night before the first rehearsal of Chicago. It’s been two-and-a-half years since Gwen was on Broadway in Children! Children! and eight since she was on Broadway in a musical with Sweet Charity. At Rehearsal, Day 1, Gwen is there early. Bob is running on fumes; Lenny is supposed to hit theatres in two weeks.
As he sets “All That Jazz,” Bianca Marroquin as Chita Rivera provides us with some of the original Chicago choreography—shout out to the real Broadway dancers in the background (like Moulin Rouge!’s Robyn Hurder and Newsies’ Alex Wong). But as they rehearse, Bob is coughing up a lung. He can’t even stand up. You know it’s bad when he asks to see a doctor.
Cut to black and white. “Lenny and I were lucky. It’s one thing to have talent. Plenty of people have talent. But you need the pressure. The beautiful pressure.” We flash back to the Fosse household where his instructor, Mr. Weaver, is explaining that they’re behind on dance tuition, but that Bobby could be great. He’ll pair him with Charlie Grass and they’ll be playing the best clubs in town.
As stand-up Bob waxes poetic about how it’s better for your career to just die young, real Bob is in the ER. While he’s lying to the doc about his drug use, Gwen comes clean “seconal, Dexedrine, cocaine,” and Bob has a heart attack right there. “Pressure builds,” says stand-up Bob. “It doesn’t get better, it gets worse. And it can kill you. Buh-dum-bum.”
It’s important to realize that Gwen is the one by Bob’s side. She declares herself “his wife” not just because then she gets to stay in the room, but because they feel that way. Their souls are married. They are inseparable. When he is at his worst, she is there—and she’s the one he wants there. He doesn’t want Ann to see him like this (though she will later) and when Ann gets to the hospital, Gwen puts a stake in the ground as the wife over the girlfriend in this strange three-person relationship.
As Bob lays in the hospital bed, he remembers being taken to his first burlesque house to dance and then he’s jerked back to reality—looking for the phone and freaking out that they’re going to finish Lenny without him.
At home, Gwen is signing Playbills with Bob’s autograph and Ron is needling her about finding a different director for Chicago so that she doesn’t have to wait for him to recover from his upcoming heart surgery. But Gwen will not hear of it. “It’s not my show. It’s our show. It’s always been our show.” And she knows that if they take away Chicago, Bob will die on the operating table.
Back in the hospital, Gwen tells Bob that the plan is to start up in the New Year and open in June (which historically is what they do). She’s working tirelessly to keep the “kids” employed in the interim so that they can keep their cast. But Bob, prepping for surgery, feels hopeless.
“Remember when George and Hal wanted to cut your big Act 1 number in Yankees…and you were devastated, you thought the world was ending.” (It’s comforting to hear them recall something we’ve actually seen.) And that’s when Bob and Gwen have their moment:
Bob: When I wake up after—if I wake up
Gwen: Don’t say that.
Bob: I want you to be there…when I wake up.
Gwen: Of course.
As they hold hands across the bed, “Fosse/Verdon” feels like a state of being. An inevitable destiny.
But we’re back with Bob’s demons. His father tells him he hasn’t made enough money, that he looks like a f*g with makeup on. Cut to Gwen putting makeup on Nicole so that she looks old enough to visit Bob in the hospital—where apparently children aren’t allowed. Was this a thing? Kids not allowed in a hospital?
After their visit, Nicole confronts her mother about Ann—how could she be OK with this? “Annie and I are different. What your father and I have, he doesn’t have with anybody else.” Truth.
But as Ann sleeps by his side in the hospital, Bob begins to acknowledge how messed up his childhood was. [TRIGGER WARNING] He’s remembering the clubs, remembering the night he was raped. In reality, he’s feeling desperate, worrying about his manhood. He worries that a piece of him died in the operating room and wants Ann to help him prove he’s a man.
This scene may be the most painful to watch all season. The effects of Bob’s trauma run so deep. That triangle of pleasure and confusion and shame. Feeling like sex is some sort of twisted expression of approval. We’re on a loop of Bob’s stand-up and him having sex with Ann in his hospital bed only a few days after surgery. His pain, his desperation, his need to prove himself, his insecurity, his power, his lack of power, all swirled into a hurricane of a man who just cares about love.
And as the final loop of the episode expands to a ghost light, Bob lays in bed staring at the ceiling, listening to the duet of applause and his heartbeat.
NAME-DROPPING: FILLING IN THE BLANKS BEHIND THE REFERENCES
—Some fun facts about Lenny: Lenny did star Dustin Hoffman and was released in 1974. It went on to earn six Oscar nominations, including one for Best Director for Fosse and one for Best Actor for Hoffman. Lenny’s film editor was Alan Heim, the Alan Bob refers to when he says, from his hospital bed, “Can you give me the telephone? I need to call Alan.”
—Pippin was still running at the time. Gwen mentions that there is a new Leading Player in the show. Ben Vereen originated the role, played in the series by Ahmad Simmons in the episode “Glory.” He was replaced in February 1974 by Northern J. Calloway. Vereen returned in May of that year, and then left again. Samuel E. Wright replaced Vereen November 30, 1974. (Michael Rupert also became the new Pippin November 1, 1974.) Two more men would play the role in the original production—Irving Lee and Ben Harney—before it closed June 12, 1977.
—While Bob is in the hospital, Gwen is signing his autograph on Playbills. But Ron is trying to get her to do Chicago without Bob. “What are you going to tell Fryer?” he says. Robert Fryer was one of the lead producers on the show, along with James Cresson.
—Bob Fosse and Charlie Grass were known as “The Riff Brothers.” They met at the Chicago Academy of the Arts. Frederic Weaver, an old-time vaudeville performer and musician—and their dance teacher as depicted in the series—put Bob and Charlie together because brother acts were the big thing.
—In real life, Fosse had his heart attack in late October 1974. (Chicago rehearsals began October 26, 1974 and his heart attack was a few days later.) At the time, Ann Reinking was actually in the hospital as well, with fractured vertebrae. She was playing Maggie in the musical Over Here!, by Richard and Robert Sherman (of Chitty Chitty Bang Band and Mary Poppins fame), with a book by Will Holt.
—Fosse’s heart surgery took place November 15, 1974.
· Learn more about the history behind the making of Chicago in Ethan Mordden’s book All That Jazz: The Life and Times of the Musical Chicago.