I expected to love Michelle Williams in Fosse/Verdon, where she plays Broadway actress Gwen Verdon in a show detailing her relationship with director/choreographer Bob Fosse (Sam Rockwell). What I didn’t expect was my soul leaving my body when, after Fosse asks his estranged wife, “When’s the last time you acted?” Verdon fires back, “An hour ago, when you walked in the door. How’d I do?”
Fosse/Verdon hit TV screens earlier this year, and I was looking forward to spending my break watching it, as the show just became available on Hulu. The show — which boasts Lin-Manuel Miranda as an executive producer — has all the flash and sparkle of Broadway while not shying away from the turbulent relationship between the titular superstars.
From stage to screen, from Sweet Fosse/Verdon, Fosse and Verdon bring out the best in each other creatively, and the worst in each other on a personal level. Theirs is a tale of betrayal and support, flashy dance numbers and screaming matches. It’s absolutely intoxicating to watch.
While Rockwell does a commendable job portraying the complicated character of Fosse — detailing everything from Fosse’s infidelity to his struggles with addiction and depression — it’s Williams who commands the attention of everyone watching, as she does in everything she stars in.
Everything that Williams does is so incredibly subtle that it takes a bit to catch exactly what she’s doing. I was almost at the end of the series when I noticed that Verdon’s voice had changed with age and a smoking habit, making her speech raspier. It all adds to Williams’ brilliance and led to her Emmy win.
Williams is also one of the few actors working today that can go from joy to despair in a matter of seconds while still making the scene feel believable. Throughout her career, Verdon enjoyed plenty of upswings and praise, but, as she aged, she struggled to find work that she still enjoyed.
She also was an essential sounding board to her oft-estranged husband Fosse in all his work; he often couldn’t find exactly what he was looking for in a scene without Verdon’s input. However, Verdon wasn’t given her due credit by audiences or Fosse for her work. All one has to do is watch Williams’ face to see years of struggle etched into Verdon’s every expression.
It’s hard to watch Verdon stick by Fosse no matter what he does. She even becomes friends with one of his serious girlfriends while she’s still married to Fosse. However, Williams never lets the viewer forget that this is Gwen Verdon we’re watching onscreen. She’s fierce, stands up for herself, and is a passionate mother. Verdon may not be so complex as Fosse, but she wears her own personal tragedies on her shoulders, never letting anyone or anything take her accomplishments away from her for a second.
There’s one scene where, after a fight with Fosse, Williams wipes a tear away dramatically before picking herself back up and continuing rehearsals. Both myself and Lin-Manuel Miranda have commented on how amazing that one scene is. Manuel Miranda himself tweeted that Williams easily could’ve received her Emmy for that scene alone.
The dance Williams and Rockwell do around each other, showing a story that spans years of hurt feelings and triumphs, captivates like a Broadway performance. Fosse and Verdon would be nothing without the other, and it feels like only Rockwell and Williams were the right choices to take on such a huge relationship.
Fosse/Verdon is a love story at its core, one full of twists and turns that will stay with viewers for a very long time.