Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon, Broadway's Groundbreaking Couple, Get an Official Website
By Kenneth Jones
A new and official website devoted to the creative partnership of actress-dancer Gwen Verdon and director-choreographer Bob Fosse was launched over the summer by their daughter, Nicole Fosse.
The mission of VerdonFosse.com and The Verdon Fosse Estate is "to promote, preserve, and protect the artistic and intellectual property of Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon" and "to foster and educate performers, directors and choreographers, as well as all scholars and students interested in American films and musical theatre."
With the 1987 passing of nine-time Tony winner Fosse (Pippin, The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, Little Me, Dancin', Sweet Charity, Redhead, Big Deal, plus Chicago) at the age of 60, his estate went to his wife and longtime collaborator Verdon, the red-headed four-time Tony winner (Can-Can, Damn Yankees, New Girl in Town, Redhead, plus Sweet Charity and Chicago). Upon her passing in 2000 at the age of 75, the estate was turned over to Nicole Fosse, herself an actress and dancer.
The new site, which is still a work in progress with many new elements being added, offers video links, biographical information and personal effects and memorabilia from the Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon Collection in the Music Division of the Library of Congress.
"It's taken us a while to get it up and running and to figure out the format, and who's going to host — all that stuff," Nicole Fosse told Playbill.com. "We're trying to get at least some little blurbs up there, and we will be expanding on them and changing them and adding to them. We're just trying to go slowly with it, and not try to do too much. Little baby steps…"
Misinformation on other websites was one of the reasons she wanted to create this official site. "There's quite a bit of misinformation, and there's a lot of people who, on different websites, have posted all kinds of perspectives, points-of-view, ideas, which is wonderful," she said. "Everybody who has worked with Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon, they have their personal experiences, which I honor and respect. However, when it comes to people beginning to speak for Bob Fosse — they're trying to represent who Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon were — it becomes slanted. There's no official site that is estate- sanctioned for the public to cross-reference to. When you have two legendary figures, and they both passed away quite a while ago, things get watered down. I feel like it's my job — the job of the estate — to always bring it back to the original seed of where it began. …The true origins and the true facts."
Links to videos are expected to be on the site. One already posted is a video from a 1962 television appearance that shows Fosse and Verdon demonstrating "Whatever Lola Wants," her signature song from Damn Yankees, their first Broadway show together in 1955. He was the choreographer; she was the star. They both won Tony Awards for their work, and she repeated the role in the film version, with Fosse himself dancing with her in the picture's "Who's Got the Pain?" mambo duet.
Fosse was a lean, blond dancer-actor in nightclubs, films and on Broadway before he blossomed as a visionary stage and film choreographer and director; he was Tony-nominated as Best Actor in a Musical in 1964 for playing Joey in Pal Joey, a role he understudied on Broadway in 1952. In one year, 1973, he won the Academy Award for his direction of the film "Cabaret," Tonys for Direction and Choreography of Pippin and Emmys for the Direction and Choreography of the TV special "Liza With a Z." He was later Oscar-nominated for direction of the biopic "Lenny" in 1975 and for the screenplay and direction of "All That Jazz" in 1980. He won his last Tony in 1986 for the choreography of Big Deal.
"If I give a link on the website or if I reference something, the public can be certain that it has been previewed, reviewed by the estate and is sanctioned," Nicole Fosse said. "Let's say on YouTube there's two different versions of somebody dancing something my mother did, right? I may reference one and not the other. 'If you want to see the choreography, if you want to see what it was like, go to this link.' And I'll always keep it on the positive, I won't trash-talk anything bad, but I will link people to a master class workshop being taught, a teacher who is very good, video footage that is estate-sanctioned."
Nicole Fosse wants to make sure that "today's young dancers, if they want to go and study what it's like to do Bob Fosse choreography, will know which teachers they can take from and not waste their time with the inappropriate teachers."
Her goal is for "the style and the integrity and the work ethic" of Verdon and Fosse to live on.
"One of the things that I'm very concerned with preserving is not only the style of his choreography," she said, "but, let me just say, the work ethic that they both upheld. There are certain teachers who can teach the style of Bob Fosse or can teach a dance that my mother did…but to really impart an entire way of approaching the material and of handling one's self in the theatrical realm only comes from certain teachers."
The memorabilia on the verdonfosse.com site includes images of magazine covers (Verdon made the cover of Time in 1955), awards such as Grammys (for the Redhead cast recording) and Tonys (Verdon's first was for Can-Can in 1953-54), cast album covers, ticket stubs, Playbills and more.
"I am working on a book as well, so I don't want to give away everything on the website that may be included in the book," Fosse said. "That's another reason I'm going slowly with how much and what I put up there."
There's also information about what is arguably the most important aspect of her parents' legacy: The Bob Fosse-Gwen Verdon Fellowship, a permanent scholarship for a deserving student at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. It was created by Nicole Fosse with funds from the estate in 2003.
The Verdon Fosse Estate also oversees the licensing of Bob Fosse's work for theatrical staging, information about which is also on the new site.
Here's how VerdonFosse.com characterizes "how they met": "In the American dance world of the early 1950s Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon had heard of each other's talents but their paths had never crossed. That changed in the spring of 1955. Producer Hal Prince and director George Abbott of the Broadway musical Damn Yankees had suggested to newly hired choreographer Bob Fosse the idea of casting Gwen Verdon for the role of 'Lola.' Fosse was resistant at first. After several failed casting calls, Fosse agreed to meet with Verdon, but only if he could spend a few days in a rehearsal hall seeing if he could work with the veteran Broadway redhead. The synergy that happened in those few days of rehearsal would come to change the careers of both these unique talents. Bob and Gwen both earned Tony Awards for their participation in Damn Yankees and they would go on to become the most accomplished creative couple of the American Broadway Musical for the next three decades."
Also visit PlaybillVault.com for more about the Broadway work of Verdon and Fosse.
Send questions and comments to the Webmaster
Copyright © 2014 Playbill, Inc. All Rights Reserved.