The dynamic professional and romantic relationship between Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon has been dramatized in “Fosse/Verdon,” an FX series having its premiere on Tuesday and starring Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams.
It might just leave you scrambling to revisit — or discover for the first time — the brilliance of their work on screen: the exuberance, the precision, the sex, the oft droll humor. Fosse and Verdon collaborated across multiple entertainment mediums, so there are plenty of pieces to choose from. Here are some of the best.
‘Mexican Breakfast’ (‘The Ed Sullivan Show,’ 1969)
Many of the moves in “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” bear a striking resemblance to this number, which Verdon and two dancers performed on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
In a rare later-in-life onscreen performance, Fosse played the Snake in this musical adaptation of the French, pseudo-children’s novella.
More hats! And a song about … doing the mambo and feeling sick? The lyrics are nonsensical, but the rare image of Fosse and Verdon dancing together on screen is irresistible.
Highlights: The furious footwork and pure joy that comes across. But the real highlight of “Damn Yankees” is definitely …
‘Whatever Lola Wants’ (‘Damn Yankees’)
as weird as it is sexy — maybe even more so? But that’s why it works; Verdon is completely game to lean hard into the playful nature of old-school burlesque as filtered through Fosse’s precise choreography.
The dancer and choreographer Anne Reinking, another collaborator (and romantic partner) of Fosse’s, has described the characterization of the dance hostesses like so: “From the waist up you’re glamorous, you’re wonderful. But from the waist down, you’re tired and your legs are busted and your feet hurt.” You can feel it seep through the dancers’ slinky bodies; much of this number actually involves intense stillness.
Highlights: The overemphasized, mesmerizing isolated movements, which you can also find in …
‘Rich Man’s Frug’ (‘Sweet Charity’)
Fosse” — the basis of “Fosse/Verdon” — the “Aloof” section was inspired by Arthur, a Mod-themed New York nightclub that catered to the likes of John Wayne and Jacqueline Kennedy.
The entire hourlong concert special is highlight after highlight, but this number, a cover of a song by soul singer-songwriter Joe Tex, stands out. In a hot red mini-dress and flanked by two male dancers, Minnelli commands the stage with Fosse’s delightfully herky-jerky choreography.
Highlights: The backup dancers, who are for some reason wearing wide-brimmed hats, white ruffled tuxedo shirts and what look like riding boots. Fosse was excellent at envisioning movement for trios, as also seen in …
‘Steam Heat’ (‘The Pajama Game,’ 1957)
So much signature Fosse styling is in this number, including the hat-as-prop, slouched frame, shoulder rolls. And even if the song has no real bearing on the plot of “The Pajama Game” it will burrow itself in your brain.
The visual emphasis is on the long lines of Minnelli’s body and her dancers’, the deeply arched backs, the extended and accentuated legs and arms.
Highlights: Minnelli’s utter commitment and ease with the chair work; the dark, smoky aesthetic of the cabaret, whichFosse would return to for …
‘Take Off With Us’/ ‘Airotica’ (‘All That Jazz,’ 1979)
What starts off as a number that sounds like it could have been plucked straight from “A Chorus Line” takes a turn for the bizarrely tantalizing. An aviation theme is envisioned via an erotic lens, as Fosse imagines a balletic orgy of sorts. It’s strange, but the dancing is a marvel.
Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag”; the Charlie Chaplin-esque “Erbie Ferbie’s Twitch”; and the joyous, playful “Alley Dance.”