First the good news: We’re finally getting some Chicago! But it’s not all Chita Rivera and jazz hands: As last week’s episode ominously foreshadowed, the strain of shooting Lenny while also working on Chicago is the exact opposite of what doctors advised.
Should it have given either Bob or Gwen pause that he literally had a heart attack during Chicago rehearsals? (Yes, that really happened — and no, it wasn’t his only one.) Probably, but both are so singularly focused in their own ways on the work that they want to just buck up and push through. You know, give ‘em the ol’ razzle-dazzle.
What was supposed to be an eight-week shoot for Lenny became a six-month one, and the editing process seems to be equally fraught. But that can’t keep him from fretting over the footage of Dustin Hoffman playing legendary comic Lenny Bruce (and that’s Tony nominee Brandon Uranowitz playing Hoffman-as-Bruce, if you’re keeping your “Broadway stars on Fosse/Verdon” scorecard up to date) while having to coordinate with Gwen on all things Chicago. Her contract gives her approval over pretty much everything, from the lyrics to the poster artwork to the cast and, yes, the director. So yeah, he’s under a bit of pressure — which lures him back into his old Fosse drugs/sex/booze habits.
Meanwhile, Gwen is pushing through like it’s all just fine, suggesting they invite press into the rehearsal room for the first week to showcase the great Fosse-Verdon reunion and sunnily assuring the cast that while they’ll want to stock up on heating pads and aspirin, under Bob’s guidance they’ll never be better. It’s a far cry from Bob’s entrance, showing up after editing Lenny all night and looking as frayed as the shoelace he snaps. Not to mention his troubling cough that persists throughout that first rehearsal, daring to interrupt Chita Rivera (Bianca Marroquín, a veteran of Broadway’s current Chicago revival) singing “All That Jazz.” (The nerve.)
“Lenny and I were lucky,” he muses, borrowing Bruce’s stand-up style for this week’s meta out-of-body fantasy moments, placing himself as the star of his own movie. “It’s one thing to have talent… but you need the pressure.” That’s what pushed a teenaged Bob Fosse to dance in those burlesque houses, to work harder and longer because performers are always replaceable, what keeps him going when he’s running on fumes, to downplay having chest pains and lie to doctors about his drug use so he can just keep working. He even muses in that morbid way about how death could impact his career — if he died before Lenny was released, he jokes, just think of the box office returns.
After Bob’s heart attack, Gwen takes control of both his hospital room and the fallout around Chicago. She turns an awkward encounter with an autograph-seeking doctor into getting Bob his own hospital room and digs her heels in that no one besides him can direct this musical. When Ron tries to reason with her, arguing that there’s no way the production and cast can wait for him to recover, she won’t listen. Despite that all-powerful contract she wields, it’s not “her” show. “It’s our show. It’s always been our show.” And, she declares, if Bob knew he was being replaced before he undergoes heart surgery, he’d die on the table — a notion a no-longer-pint-sized but still young Nicole unfortunately overhears and definitely absorbs.
No, they need to do this together. Before he goes into surgery, Gwen reminds him of what happened with Damn Yankees all the way back in episode 2, when their Act 1 number was cut but then they worked all night and came away with “Who’s Got the Pain?” That’s the Fosse-Verdon way.
Having major heart surgery gives you time to reflect, it seems, and Bob’s stand-up musings go back into those formative days of his early dance career when his parents didn’t ask questions about the seedy clubs he performed in but happily took the money he brought home. At 13, he recalls, the older women who worked at the club took advantage of him sexually, and he reflects on the mix of pleasure, confusion, and humiliation he felt about it — a “holy trinity” of shame. “It screws up your relationships for the rest of your life,” he says. And it’s definitely screwed up that in the hospital, just days post-op, he connives Ann into having sex with him right there in his hospital bed so he can make sure he’s still the same man he was before going under (ugh).
So, yes, things are going to move forward despite Bob’s health scare, and with Ann and Gwen holding their respective places in his orbit. It was interesting to hear them both refer to themselves as married to him — Gwen in the ER during his heart attack and Ann to a stranger in the hospital hallway after that scene in his room. (Gwen and Bob separated but never divorced, and were still married at the time of his death.) Same to seeing Gwen brush off Nicole’s question about whether it bothers her that Ann was always around — from where she stands, nobody has what she and Bob have. And right now, that also includes Chicago.