InterviewHow To Make a Fosse/Verdon Musical Theatre Fans Will LoveTony-winning writer Steven Levenson created a TV show that will get fans of the duo and their work—like Chicago, Cabaret, and more—clamoring.
March 15, 2019
As Steven Levenson, the writer behind FX’s Fosse/Verdon jokingly claims, his job is relatively easy. “I write two words. ‘That’s two days of shooting,’” he says with a laugh, quoting his co-executive producer Thomas Kail.
He’s minimizing his work, of course. No one would ever say that writing an eight-episode series that spans 30 years and features not only some of the most famous and influential Broadway creatives and performers but also recreates some of the most iconic moments in film and theatre is a simple task.
But Levenson (who won a Tony Award for his book for Dear Evan Hansen) is up to the job. Premiering April 9, the series is based on the Sam Wasson biography of the director-choreographer behind such massive hits as Pippin and Chicago, and the director of movie musicals including Cabaret and All That Jazz, as well as his partner in life and work, the triple-threat performer Gwen Verdon. (Their daughter, Nicole Fosse, serves as co-executive producer and creative consultant.) With such theatrical people at the forefront of his story, Levenson has worked hard to maintain their outsized glamour while humanizing them.
“We try to err on the side of just writing regular people, because that’s how they experience themselves and one another,” Levenson says. “And there’s something sort of wonderful seeing these [stars] as regular people hanging out at a beach house. At the same time you don’t want to flatten them out to make them feel less real than they were, but you want them to feel human.”
Levenson points to his cast, led by Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams as the title pair, as reasons why the still-filming show is working. “Everyone on this show, even if they’re not theatre people, has a deep connection to this material and this work and we’re all such nerds about it,” he says, adding that Rockwell and Williams, on the rare occasions they aren’t shooting, are in voice or dance lessons. And the show is very much an intentional valentine to the theatre for the people who love it the most.
“We want the show to resonate first and foremost with the people who love this material, because if those people don’t believe it or feel it’s authentic then it’s not authentic,” Levenson says. “And then we want the people who have never heard [of Fosse or Verdon] to be drawn into this human story and these incredible numbers.”