What good is it sitting alone in your room when there’s an episode of “Fosse/Verdon” on? Pretty good. This limited series, which starts Tuesday on FX, spins and arches its way through the relationship, professional and excruciatingly personal, between Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon. Fosse was a dancer, choreographer, director and filmmaker, who would win nine Tony Awards. Verdon, who married him in 1960 and continued to work with him after they separated in 1971, was the greatest comic dancer Broadway ever fell for and won four Tonys of her own.
Created by some more big Broadway names — Thomas Kail and Lin-Manuel Miranda, of “Hamilton,” are executive producers, Steven Levenson, who wrote the book for “Dear Evan Hansen,” is the showrunner — the series assumes a thorough knowledge of midcentury Broadway and beyond. Here’s a cheat sheet to who’s who and what’s what. Who’s got the pain? Most everyone.
George Abbott (Byron Jennings)
Savvy and patrician, the director and producer Abbott, gave a young Fosse, his first job as a Broadway choreographer, hiring him for “The Pajama Game” and then later for “Damn Yankees.” His ability to make bad shows good and good ones better was known as the “Abbott touch.”
Paddy Chayefsky (Norbert Leo Butz)
A television writer, novelist and three-time Oscar winner (an adaptation of his screenplay for “Network” is on Broadway now), Chayefsky became Fosse’s closest friend. Making good on a deal they struck when Fosse underwent heart surgery, Fosse tap danced at Chayefsky’s funeral.
Jack Cole (Christopher Tocco)
A nightclub choreographer and dance coach, Cole met a young Verdon when she reviewed his troupe’s performance and pleaded with him to take her on. He did. With him, she made her Broadway debut in the 1950 show “Alive and Kicking.”
Shirley MacLaine (Laura Osnes)
Joan McCracken (Susan Misner)
Fosse’s second wife (his first was the dancer Mary Ann Niles), McCracken entered the marriage as the bigger Broadway star. Like Verdon, she was a comedy dancer. She appeared in the original “Oklahoma!.” Complications from diabetes stalled her career.
Liza Minnelli (Kelli Barrett)
Cy Feuer (Paul Reiser)
A savvy Broadway hitmaker, Feuer produced the likes of “Guys and Dolls.” Feuer’s “Can-Can,” a Cole Porter musical, was the show that first made Verdon a star. Later, Feuer took a chance on Fosse, greenlighting him for the film “Cabaret,” though they often fought during shooting.
Hal Prince (Evan Handler)
Fosse’s friend, collaborator and sometime rival, Prince is a vaunted Broadway director and producer. (A tribute, “Prince of Broadway,” ran in 2015.) He directed several shows that Fosse choreographed and later hired Fosse and Verdon’s daughter, Nicole Fosse, for “Phantom of the Opera.”
Ann Reinking (Margaret Qualley)
A forceful and impossibly leggy dancer, Reinking met Fosse during “Pippin” and became his romantic partner through most of the ’70s. After his death, she became, with Verdon, the primary exporter of his style. She choreographed the 1996 revival of “Chicago” and co-directed and helped to choreograph the Broadway revue “Fosse.”
Chita Rivera (Bianca Marroquin)
A blistering Broadway dancer, Rivera appeared in the London company of “Sweet Charity” and then alongside MacLaine in the movie version. Impish and imperious, she later starred in “Chicago,” playing the infamous Velma Kelly alongside Verdon’s Roxie Hart.
Neil (Nate Corddry) and Joan Simon (Aya Cash)
When Fosse ran into trouble with “Sweet Charity,” he persuaded Simon, already a celebrated comedy playwright, to write the book. Simon and his wife, Joan, a former modern dancer, became key members of Fosse and Verdon’s social circle.
‘Damn Yankees’ (1955)
Fosse’s follow-up to “The Pajama Game,” this musical introduced him to Verdon, already a Broadway star, who played the temptress Lola. Both took home Tonys and in the film version, Fosse appeared alongside Verdon in “Who’s Got the Pain.”
‘New Girl in Town’ (1957) and ‘Redhead’ (1959)
The Fosse/Verdon collaborations least known and least often revived, the first is a musical comedy version of Eugene O’Neill’s “Anna Christie” and the second, a murder mystery set in Victorian London, is about a sheltered girl who runs a wax museum. Each won Verdon a Tony.
‘Sweet Charity’ (1966)
A whimsical adaptation of Federico Fellini’s “Nights of Cabiria,” the Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields musical follows a dance hall girl, Charity Hope Valentine, on a fitful search for love and enlightenment. It gave us standards like “Big Spender” and “If My Friends Could See Me Now.”
Stephen Schwartz’s follow-up to “Godspell” and “The Magic Show” is a parable of self-discovery, based, in the slackest sense, on the emperor Charlemagne and his son. Fosse dialed up the themes of sex and death and emphasized the show’s metatheatricality, with Ben Vereen as the Leading Player.
Adapted from Maurine Dallas Watkins’s play about two acquitted murderesses, this was a musical ahead of its time. Its cynicism left critics cold and despite star turns by Verdon and Rivera, it took home no Tonys. But the 1996 revival is still running.
‘Sweet Charity’ (1969)
Fosse made his film directing debut with this movie, which starred MacLaine, Rivera and John McMartin, plus Sammy Davis Jr. as the cool-cat leader of a religious sect. Though Verdon had been replaced, she came along to assist with the choreography. Early reviews were promising, but it sputtered at the box office.
Though “Sweet Charity” had flopped, Fosse convinced Feuer that he should film Kander and Ebb’s show, which Prince had directed for Broadway. Shooting on location in Munich and West Berlin, Fosse cut the extradiegetic numbers, adding in “Mein Herr” and “Maybe This Time.” Verdon again assisted, at one point flying back to New York to procure a gorilla costume.
For Fosse’s first nonmusical film, he chose an adaptation of Julian Barry’s stage play about the life of Lenny Bruce. Photographed in black and white, it intercuts stage performances, flashbacks and interviews with Bruce’s mother, agent and former wife. Fosse and the film’s star, Dustin Hoffman (Brandon Uranowitz in “Fosse/ Verdon”), often clashed during filming.
‘All That Jazz’ (1979)
A singular movie musical, lacerating, indulgent and sometimes surreal, it starred Roy Scheider as a Fosse-esque choreographer, with Leland Palmer in the Verdon role and Ann Reinking more or less playing herself. The movie concluded with “Bye, Bye, Love” an ecstatic and utterly bananas production number featuring Vereen.