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FX TV REVIEW: FOSSE / VERDON (2019)

FX TV REVIEW: FOSSE / VERDON (2019)

Developed by Steven Levenson and Thomas Kailbased on Fosse by Sam Wasson

Executive Producers: Steven Levenson, Thomas Kail, Joel Fields, Lin-Manuel Miranda, George Stelzner, Sam Rockwell, Michelle Williams

Producers: Erica Kay, Kate Sullivan, Brad Carpenter

Directors: Thomas Kail, Adam Bernstein, Jessica Yu, Minkie Spiro etc.

Writers: Steven Levenson, Thomas Kail, Deborah Cahn, Tracey Scott Wilson, Charlotte Stouldt, Ike Holter, Joel Fields

Main Cast: Sam Rockwell, Michelle Williams, Norbert Leo Butz, Margaret Qualley, Nate Corddry, Paul Reiser, Jake Lacy, Susan Misner, Peter Scolari, Kelli Barrett, Evan Handler and many more.

Original Network: FX – UK Network: BBC

No. of Episodes: 8

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

I’m not a massive fan of musical shows or films as a genre. However, when the subject material or narrative connects with me, or the craft of song and dance transcends the form I will enjoy them. Thus, musicals I have seen and enjoyed on stage in the last few years include the brilliant Gypsy, Funny Girl, and Company. On the other hand, I could not stand Hamilton, despite the incredible talent involved in the production. Ironically, Hamilton director, Thomas Kail, is a major driving force behind this adaptation of Sam Wasson’s book about Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon.

On the cinema screen the likes of: The Wizard of Oz (1939), Singing in the Rain (1952), Grease (1978), Moulin Rouge (2001), Chicago (2002), are just a few great examples of the genre I liked. But, the best and most exceptional musical I have seen in terms of form, style and subject matter is the Bob Fosse directed, Cabaret (1972). It’s not just a great musical, but it’s also a incredible piece of cinema. It oozes dark class in the musical set-pieces, ambiguous and fractured characterisation, sleazy sexuality and the thematic political subtext of pre-World War II Germany.

The making of Cabaret (1972) is one of the many creative events featured in Fosse/Verdon (2019). As the title suggests, it is an extensive biographical television drama about legendary director and choreographer Bob Fosse (Sam Rockwell) and the genius dancer, Gwen Verdon (Michelle Williams). Both their artistic and personal lives were entwined from the time they met on the Broadway musical Damn Yankees in 1955, to the moment of his death in 1987.

If you’re interested in musicals and the work of Fosse and Verdon then you will absolutely love this warts and all biopic. We get extensive rehearsal, on stage, on screen and edit room scenes showing Fosse and Verdon’s creative process. Songs and dance numbers from Cabaret, Sweet Charity, All That Jazz, Pippin, Chicago and many more, feature heavily in the play and fantastic soundtrack. Further, both Fosse and Verdon, were dancers from a very young age and we therefore get scenes from their formative years paying their dues in dives and flop-houses.

We also get the heavy drama of Fosse and Verdon’s marriage battles. The former being a pill-popping workaholic and womaniser was the biggest issue in their relationship. His constant affairs and narcissistic tantrums took their toll eventually. Indeed, Fosse, while an amazing creative force, is quite despicable in his lecherous use of the casting couch and exploitation of his position and power. Perhaps, even more could have been done to critique his negative acts, especially in light of the #MeToo gender issues relevant today. However, there is no aggressive damnation of his actions, but rather agnostic reflection and acceptance that this was prevalent masculine behaviour for the era.

Sam Rockwell as Fosse is outstanding. He conveys the sadness of a junkie, haunted by a dysfunctional and abusive childhood. Yet, where his work is concerned his energy and obsession is non-stop and formidable. This, in no small part, is down to his constant amphetamine abuse; something which would lead to mental and physical health issues. Similarly, Michelle Williams is incredible as Gwen Verdon. She inhabits this classy performer with an energy and drive, but also a fighting spirit when clashing with Fosse creatively and matrimonially. She is more his match than his muse though. Indeed, Verdon, is his equal and deserves to share many of his plaudits and awards. They ultimately would push each other to greater heights and achievements.

The supporting cast, including the magnetic Margaret Qualley as dancer, Anne Reiking, and Norbert Leo Butz portraying writer, Paddy Chayefsky are excellent. Also, the talent and look of the era is convincingly evoked on and off the stage. The cavalcade of dance numbers are superbly mounted and the editing perfectly reflects the fractured nature of the characters’ show business lives. Lastly, the jigsaw structure, which zigs and zags from the characters’ past to Fosse’s final days, charting triumph and adversity, complements the complexity of the characters.

Thus, overall, this works as an honest analysis of a flawed genius and his equally talented dance and life partner. It is highly recommended for those drawn to the darker side of creative artistry and personal relationships. But the question remains: should the work of Fosse be re-evaluated, especially in light of his extremely sexual and sexist behaviour? Is there a statute of limitation for genius and all that jazz? The Primetime Emmy awards panel do not seem concerned given Fosse/Verdon (2019) has received seven major nominations at time of writing. All of which it stands a great chance of winning!

Mark: 9 out of 11

A LOVELY NIGHT IN THE SUN: LA LA LAND (2016) REVIEWED

LA LA LAND (2016) FILM REVIEW

**SPOILER ALERT!**

In light of the FOURTEEN Oscar nominations from the Academy who am I to go against the tide of musical loveliness that is La La Land. Indeed, while I dislike all kinds of award ceremonies per se it does deserve most of the accolades coming its way. Because as the Trump puppet rears his huge, ugly head in the United States and Brexit looms large in the UK we all need something feel-good and nostalgic to lift us; especially amidst the bitter cold of winter.

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Damian Chazelle, who wrote and directed the exceptional drama Whiplash (2014), has sculpted a sunny post-modern musical which soars throughout paying tribute to both Los Angeles and Hollywood. The movie stars Ryan Gosling as an uncompromising jazz pianist and Emma Stone as a sensitive, budding actress who meet in a contemporary yet somehow old-fashioned vision of LA; where magic and love are in the air and the potentialities of dreams are a palpable force.

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Stone and Gosling are a stunning couple and while Chazelle’s leads may not have the strongest voices they serve the songs exceptionally well with an ordinary wonder. The chemistry between the two sparkles as the story entwines their characters within a “follow your dream” narrative. Arguably there could’ve been slightly more differences between the two than the “I hate jazz” tension; but as in the romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011), Stone and Gosling sail through the film with confidence and profound likeability.

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Chazelle throws everything at the story employing jazz, 80s pop, old band numbers, R and B, and ballads. Moreover, all manner of parody, pastiche and cinematic devices are employed to echo the classic Hollywood musicals of yesteryear; the formidable work of Jacques Demy; plus the more modern pop promos of recent times. The opening Another Day of Sun traffic sequence is a real showstopper as Fame-like dancing and singing on motors in an LA highway jam brilliantly establishes the hyper-real and fantastical elements to come.

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It seems obvious to say that the music in La La Land is to the fore, but Chazelle and the ultra-talented composer Justin Hurwitz commit a verve and soul to the songs and direction. Clearly the characters and lyrics reflect their own personal emotions, dreams and desire to escape everyday existence. While much of the film skims a stylish surface of colour and verve, numbers such as City of Stars and The Fools Who Dream really touch the heartstrings and draw out the internal emotions of the characters.

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It’s hard to criticize such a funny, feel-good movie and as a musical it is probably a masterpiece, however, while the love story served the musical structure really well, I felt that, compared to say Funny Girl (1968), Grease (1977) and Half-A-Sixpence (1967) it arguably lacked a bit of dramatic tension. Indeed, the break-up itself was under-baked and latterly covered by a have-your-cake-and-eat-it “what could have been” fantasy flashback. Yet, this is a minor critique of an incredibly well realised escapist joy.

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So, roll on the Oscars where the film will almost certainly win best film and direction, plus accolades, no doubt, for the musical and technical achievements. The wonderful Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are certain to be in the fray too. However, while I have seen other more dramatically impactful films such as: Arrival (2016), Manchester by the Sea (2016) and Silence (2016) (not even nominated!!), this remains one terrific musical that will lift the spirits even on the darkest day.