The miniseries Fosse/Verdon profiles one of 20th century America’s most iconic creative couples — Bob Fosse, the dancer/choreographer with the distinctive style of movement and staging who moved into film directing, and Gwen Verdon, the Broadway dancer and actress who served as muse and creator of opportunities. With its two lead roles played by Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams, the miniseries will have a full ensemble of characters based on real-world figures who are part of Fosse/Verdon history. Here’s a breakdown of some of those you can expect to see:
Bob Fosse (played by Rockwell) was born in 1927 in Chicago, Illinois. During his early teens, he danced as part of an act known as the Riff Brothers in vaudeville and burlesque circuits, spaces which would have a profound impact on his choreography. He eventually reached the Broadway stage via the 1950 production Dance Me a Song. Around this time he was also showing up in film, and it was in the musical Kiss Me Kate where he choreographed his own dance with Carol Haney, showcasing parts of the distinctively slinky, sexy Fosse technique. He would come to be known for his “amoeba” style of motion that involved curled shoulders, jazz hands and jutting hips among other movements that called upon dancers to present craft in a simultaneously spectacular and subtle fashion.
Fosse began to work as a choreographer on Broadway with 1954’s The Pajama Game. It was for his next project, Damn Yankees, where he met Verdon, and the inspired pair would collaborate on an array of projects. By the end of the 1960s, Fosse had moved on to movie directing, helming an adaptation of Sweet Charity, a work he had created for the stage. Yet his most lauded work arrived a few years later in the form of Cabaret (1972), for which he won an Academy Award for direction. He later helmed the Oscar-nominated All That Jazz (1979), a semi-autobiographical work that starred Roy Scheider as a womanizing, drug-using workaholic who eventually succumbs to his demons, mirroring the self-inflicted excesses that were part of Fosse’s lifestyle. All That Jazz was followed by Star 80, the last film he directed.
For his live theatrical work, Fosse was nominated for a 20 Tonys, winning nine. He died from a heart attack in 1987 in Washington, DC as the opening for a revival of Sweet Charity was underway.
READ MORE: The On- and Off-Stage Relationship of Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon
Gwen Verdon (played by Williams) was born in 1925 in Culver City, California. Though having to overcome a childhood illness that would affect her legs, she was trained as a dancer from a young age. Taking a foray into journalism with her first husband, she returned to the performance world as an adult. Working as an assistant to Jack Cole for a time, Verdon became part of the Broadway community, known for her dancing as well as the quality of her acting and singing. She brought down the house opening night in Cole Porter’s Can-Can, for which she won her first Tony, and later in Damn Yankees as devil’s assistant, Lola. Working on Yankees is how she met Fosse, who served as choreographer. (The two would become particularly known onscreen for their dance “Who’s Got the Pain?” in the musical’s movie version.) A union both professional and romantic was soon born. After having won another Tony for 1957’s New Girl in Town, Verdon declared that she wouldn’t star in the 1959 show Redhead unless Fosse directed. The two wed in 1960, and Verdon pulled back from the Broadway stage, having given birth to their daughter in 1963. In 1966, she made her return with the lead role in Sweet Charity, about a kindhearted dance hall hostess who attempts to deeply connect with a straitlaced, neurotic man. Directed and choreographed by Fosse, Charity again displayed his signature moves and Verdon became associated with tunes like “If My Friends Could See Me Now,” “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” and “Where Am I Going?”
Verdon eventually separated from her husband, who had an array of mistresses and destructive habits, though the couple never officially divorced. The two also continued to work together, and Verdon co-starred with fellow Broadway legend Chita Rivera in 1975's Chicago, about two murderers who manipulate media for their own ends. The following decade, Verdon acted in many TV projects as well as films like Cocoon and Alice. She was by Fosse’s side when he died from a heart attack in Washington, DC, and subsequently nurtured his legacy, working as an artistic advisor on the 1999 musical Fosse. Verdon died in 2000.
A Seattle, Washington native, Ann Reinking (played by Margaret Qualley) studied ballet for some years before making her Broadway debut in 1969 with Cabaret and Coco. She was later part of the original cast of 1971’s Pippin, directed and choreographed by Fosse. The two became romantically partnered, and Reinking, in fact, controversially took over Verdon’s role in Chicago in February 1977. She was nominated for her second Tony for her work in Fosse’s Dancin’ the following year. Then Reinking co-starred in All That Jazz as the dynamic dancer Kate Jagger, the lover of Joe Gideon, a character positioned as Fosse’s on-screen doppelganger. She later appeared in the films Annie and Micki & Maude. After Fosse’s death, Reinking won a Tony for her choreography in the style of her mentor/lover in the 1996 revival of Chicago, which has become the longest-running revival in Broadway history, and co-directed and co-choreographed the Tony-winning tribute Fosse.
Along with Verdon, Chita Rivera (played by Bianca Marroquin) is one of Broadway’s brightest dance icons. Having made her way in the 1950s starring in musicals like West Side Story, Guys and Dolls, Can-Can, and Mr. Wonderful, she worked with Shirley MacLaine in the late ’60s as part of the movie cast of Sweet Charity, thus getting to dance Fosse choreography for the screen. Years later, Rivera and Verdon would co-star in the original 1975 production of Chicago, with Rivera playing Velma Kelly opposite Verdon’s Roxie Hart. Rivera has continued to work her magic in stage projects that include Kiss of the Spider Woman, Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life and The Visit.
The daughter of Judy Garland and Vincente Minnelli, Liza Minelli (played by Kelli Barrett) made her Tony-winning Broadway debut in 1965 with Flora, the Red Menace. She later played Sally Bowles in the screen adaptation of Cabaret, which Fosse directed. The film went on to earn eight Academy Awards, with Minnelli winning a lead actress Oscar for a role that incorporated song, movement and both comedic and dramatic chops. She has continued to star in a range of screen and live theatrical projects over the years.
Shirley MacLaine (played by Laura Osnes) is considered Hollywood royalty, having begun her acting career in the ’50s and ranking up Oscar nods for the films Some Came Running, The Apartment, Irma La Douce, and The Turning Point before winning the lead actress prize for 1983’s Terms of Endearment. MacLaine danced Fosse’s choreography on Broadway in 1954’s The Pajama Game and got to do so again on film when she took over the lead role in 1969’s Sweet Charity, which Verdon had originated for the stage. Having continued her screen work well into the new millennium, MacLaine is also known for her new age philosophies.
Having started on Broadway in the 1950s, Joel Grey (played by Ethan Slater) is long associated with the role as Masters of Ceremony in Cabaret, debuting as part of the original cast in the mid-’60s production which frames life in 1930s Berlin during the rise of Nazism. Having won a Tony for the role, Grey reprised the character for the big-screen adaptation of Cabaret, also winning an Oscar, as well as for a 1987 revival. He has appeared in an array of film and TV projects over the decades, and also served as director for the 2011 play The Normal Heart
Having once served as part of the writing team for Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, Neil Simon (played by Nate Corddry) was heralded for his enduring, highly popular contributions to Broadway in the form of witty, comedic theater. His plays Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, Last of the Red Hot Lovers, and Brighton Beach Memoirs have been adapted to film, among other works. He and Fosse collaborated on Sweet Charity, with Simon penning the book. The musical debuted in 1966, and Simon would thus have four plays running on Broadway at the same time that year. He later revealed that Fosse wanted the ending of Charity to be more decidedly tragic but convinced the choreography/director to go with a more uplifting conclusion. Simon won the Pulitzer for his 1991 play Lost in Yonkers, overseeing additional new works and revivals before his death in 2018.
A dancer who had worked with Martha Graham’s company, Joan Simon (played by Aya Cash) was the wife of playwright/screenwriter Neil Simon, with the pair marrying in the mid-1950s and having two children. The Simons connected to Verdon and Fosse as friends in addition to maintaining professional ties. Joan passed away in 1973 from bone cancer, with her memory somewhat explored in the creation of Neil’s 1977 work Chapter Two.
Known as Mr. Broadway and Mr. Abbott, George Abbott (played by Byron Jennings) shaped the path of Broadway for most of the 20th century, working in various capacities as an actor, writer, director, producer, and script doctor. A no-nonsense figure who preferred to give young unknowns a chance, he worked with Hal Prince to produce The Pajama Game, which became Fosse’s first big break as a Broadway choreographer. Abbott went on to produce Damn Yankees as well and co-directed the film versions of both musicals with Stanley Donen. He continued as a behind the scenes force well into his later years. Known for taking care of his health and avoiding a life of excess, he died in 1995 at the age of 107.
Having studied and performed ballet professionally, Joan McCracken (played by Susan Misner) made a name for herself on Broadway with her captivating debut as “the girl who falls down” in 1943’s Oklahoma! An athletic, humorous performer, she starred in other stage projects like Billion Dollar Baby as well as the films Hollywood Canteen and Good News, though she would have to curtail her dancing for health reasons. She was first married to writer/dancer Jack Dunphy, who would later become Truman Capote’s romantic partner. (McCracken’s biographer Lisa Jo Sagolla maintains that McCracken partially influenced Capote in the creation of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.) She wed Fosse in 1951, both in their second marriages, with the two having performed on Broadway together in Dance Me a Song. The Philadelphia native is cited by Fosse as pushing him to have grand dreams. “She's the one who encouraged me to be a choreographer,” he said in a 1973 New York Times interview. “I was very show biz, all I thought about was nightclubs, and she kept saying, ‘You're too good to spend your life in nightclubs.” With Fosse eventually entering into a relationship with Verdon, he and McCracken divorced at the end of the decade. She died in 1961 due to complications from diabetes.
A City College graduate, Sidney “Paddy” Chayefsky (played by Norbert Leo Butz) went on to become a writer of TV dramas during the 1950s as well as several Broadway plays. He was also a force on the big screen, earning an Academy Award for his 1955 work Marty, a version of which had previously appeared on television. He was nominated again for 1958’s The Goddess and won his second Oscar for 1971’s The Hospital. But perhaps the work that has most stood the test of time for Chayefsky was 1976’s Network, the Faye Dunaway and Peter Finch film which dissects the clandestine manipulations of a TV station behind an off the rails anchor. Chayefsky won his third Oscar for the ahead-of-its-time work. He was very good friends with Fosse, with the two regularly making time for lunch at Carnegie Deli with another writer, Herb Gardner. Fosse biographer Sam Wasson has stated that Fosse was deeply insecure about his razzle-dazzle talents and revered Chayefsky for the power he wielded as a scribe.
A native New Yorker, Hal Prince (played by Evan Handler) is the creative risk taker who has worked as producer and/or director on many of Broadway’s biggest hits, including the original productions of West Side Story, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Fiddler on the Roof, A Little Night Music, Evita, and Phantom of the Opera. With such a resume, he has, of course, crossed creative paths with Fosse, having served as producer for the original 1950s productions of The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees, with Fosse choreographing both projects and Verdon starring in the latter. Prince was also the producer and director for 1966’s Cabaret, with Fosse eventually directing the musical’s movie version. Fosse biographer Sam Wasson stated that Prince believed that the choreographer lifted elements from Cabaret for the creation of Chicago.
Director and producer Cy Feuer (played by Paul Reiser) was known for a string of Broadway hits from the 1950s into the ’60s, having partnered professionally with Ernest H. Martin. Having fostered classics like Guys and Dolls and Silk Stockings, the professionally difficult pair known as “the King and Cy” were also behind Can-Can, which elevated Verdon’s career. Feuer would later work with Fosse, producing the movie version of Cabaret. It’s public knowledge that Feuer and Fosse had significant conflict during the making of the film, with Fosse mentioning their disputes during the acceptance of his best director Oscar.
A vaudevillian performer and musician with a pencil mustache, Fred Weaver served as mentor and manager for Fosse and Charles Grass for their performances as the Riff Brothers (named in honor of the Nicholas Brothers) during their youth. Along with dancer/teacher Marguerite Comerford, Weaver provided guidance for the duo over what moves would be acceptable, their polished look and general etiquette. Fosse revered his mentor and gave him the nickname “Skipper,” whom he met when he began taking classes at the Chicago Academy of Theater Arts. Grass later stated that he believed the Jerry Orbach character of Billy Flynn in the original stage production of Chicago was an homage to Weaver.