5, 6, 7, 8…
Welcome to our penultimate Fosse/Verdon recap. It’s a story of greed, exploitation, adultery, and treachery — but not necessarily in that order.
After six episodes of Gwen attempting to get the rights and Bob’s heart attack, it’s finally time for Chicago. The episode is laced with a meta-monologue of Gwen as Roxie-meets-Billy Flynn-meets-narrator as she welcomes the audience and draws them through the story.
This slick intro is matched with a fight to equal the one between Roxie Hart and Fred Casely. It’s 1960, and Gwen has found out about Bob cheating on her with a chorus girl in their production of Redhead. She smashes things in her rage. I betcha you would have done the same. Ever the romantic, Bob takes this as an opportune moment to propose with a rolled-up candy wrapper and suggests he and Gwen have a baby.
Back in 1975, the Chicago ensemble has resumed rehearsals after Bob’s heart attack (we also learn the production’s taken out a million dollar insurance policy on him, yikes), but he’s harder to please than ever. He makes Chita Rivera and her ensemble do “All That Jazz” over and over, insisting they make it less musical comedy and infuse it with more of the energy of murderers and liars. Less razzle-dazzle, more merry murderesses.
Production is a challenge for Gwen — after wanting this for so long, she’s desperate to make good. She shows up early to rehearsal to stretch and jump rope, trying to make her body limber enough to play an ingenue. But she can’t quite hack it — the ensemble rehearses “We Both Reached for the Gun” and the actor playing Billy Flynn turns, pushes, and flings Gwen through a series of complicated dance moves. Bob wants to slow it down; the composers won’t, so he comes up with another solution — Roxie and Billy will do the entire number seated as if she’s a ventriloquist’s doll. It’s clear she’s not happy about literally being reduced to a dummy.
Meanwhile, Bob is obsessed with getting his hands on some Dexedrine. And he simply cannot do it alone. He asks everyone to help him — the rehearsal pianist, a young chorus girl, even Paddy, who rails at him and promises to deliver the “worst eulogy in the history of eulogies” if Bob dies from his bad lifestyle choices. Start writing now Paddy. (This is actually a true story — sadly, Paddy died before Bob, and Bob really did tap dance at his funeral).
Tensions rise between Bob and Gwen to the point where they’re arguing about the show’s ending during Nicole’s dance recital. Bland, reliable Ron actually enjoys watching Nicole perform, but even she can see her parents aren’t paying any attention to her ballet moves. They’re more consumed with Gwen insisting that Roxie needs a big final number and telling Bob the whole company feels he’s ruined the show by taking all the joy out of it. She accuses him of refusing to give her a closing number because he doesn’t think she can carry it, and Bob relents. But while Gwen and Ron take Nicole home to Anne (who is apparently her only stable parental figure at this point), Bob goes to a dancer’s apartment. He asks her to score him drugs and wants to know if the whole cast really wants a final number? And guess what? The name on everybody’s lips, not just Gwen’s, is Roxie.
So, Gwen gets her wish, and Kander and Ebb write her “Nowadays” to close the show. She performs it for them, Bob, and Chita — and Chita cheers saying they finally have “a closing f—king number.” But Bob just asks Gwen to do it again and then suggests they make it a duet between Gwen and Chita. They all push back, even Chita. But Gwen finally launches into him, laying down what is, in essence, the thesis of this show: that without Verdon, there would be no Fosse. She did him the biggest favor of all by giving him his career. And while this entire series has been a master class from Michelle Williams, I’ll be shocked if this episode and sequence aren’t submitted for Emmy consideration.
“I could have let you stay a failed, bald dancer, a wannabe Fred Astaire, but I picked you up on my back and I carried you. Through Charity, through Cabaret, I’ve been carrying you the whole goddamn time, and you have never forgiven me for it,” she spits. This may sound harsh, but, and I cannot stress this enough, he had it coming.
Bob actually takes the tirade pretty well and insists it’s purely a creative decision. But Gwen tells him she can have him fired from the show with a phone call.
Cut to: the final number of the show on opening night, it’s “Nowadays,” but it’s a jazzed up duet. This sort of makes it look like Bob won, but let’s say that Gwen won the battle and he won the war? Because for those that know the show, “Nowadays” is still a solo number for Roxie — it’s just that it then transitions into the finale, which is a duet and dance number between the double act of Velma and Roxie.
At the opening night party, they wait for the reviews while everyone ignores Nicole. They’re good for Gwen, but they don’t want to show them to Bob. Bob and Gwen share a look across a crowded room (you just sang that to the tune of “Some Enchanted Evening,” admit it), and we’re pitched back to this marriage proposal born out of infidelity.
Before long, Bob and Gwen are in the doctor’s office investigating their fertility issues. The doctor fawns over Gwen, but doesn’t recognize Bob — and then drops the news that Bob’s sperm is the problem. Gwen goes through some painful procedures in an attempt to conceive, but it doesn’t work. They decide to try for adoption.
While dream Gwen conducts and sings “Razzle Dazzle,” Bob and Gwen show off their apartment to the adoption agency, giving the agent an act with lots of flash in it and the reaction is, indeed, passionate. A baby is due in June in Rochester and it’s theirs. We’ve seen Williams do bits and pieces of numbers throughout the series, but it’s nice to see her get an entire number (her first since “Who’s Got the Pain) and everything from the tone, to the lighting, to her vocal delivery are top notch.
Gwen’s victory and good reviews are short-lived, however, because soon she has blisters on her vocal cords. Possibly caused by a misfiring confetti cannon? She doesn’t want to get surgery because she’s consumed with getting the show to run for a year and securing Nicole’s financial legacy. But Bob gives her the old flim flam flummox, giving her a song and dance about taking care of herself. He figures it out — Liza (with a Z) will take over for her while she has the surgery and recovers, but they won’t do any press or publicity so that it will still be Gwen’s show when she comes back.
Her illness is contrasted with her pregnancy in the past. Because as they’re awaiting the birth of the baby they’re adopting, suddenly, Gwen faints — and she’s expecting. It’s a big surprise to both of them. So much so that Bob asks if he’s the father. Gwen insists that it’s simply a miracle — of course, it’s Bob’s because he is the only man for her. And boy, have we seen that bear itself out in all sorts of unhealthy ways over the course of this series. One note — given the Chicago interlay here, it seems like a missed opportunity that nowhere in this sequence did they include strains of Roxie’s “Me and My Baby!”
Back on the Chicago timeline, Gwen is recovering. Ron tends to her while she’s on vocal rest. But she violates doctor’s orders to yell at Bob when he phones to tell her the Times found out about Liza, demanded to attend, and wrote a rave review — now box office lines are down the block. He leans on it being good for the show, but Gwen isn’t having it. She says this is always what Bob wanted, and then is even more hurt when she gets him to admit he added back in some of the steps he cut because she couldn’t do them. Her self-doubts merge with Bob’s personal bias, and she insists he never wanted her in the part. He did, but fifteen years ago.
Ron tries to convince Gwen to quit in the wake of Bob’s latest betrayal. But we all know she won’t. With the great new review, the show will run for years and set Nicole up with royalties forever. Which, ok, sure – we know Joan’s death made her slightly more concerned about her parenting. But it’s really about Gwen continuing to build the career legacy she’s consumed by, the career that needs to be worth leaving behind a son, barely paying attention to a daughter, and enduring every indignity Bob throws her way.
And so, the show must go…Gwen returns to her dressing room, warmly welcomed back by backstage security. There’s a jolly note from Liza on her mirror, but it’s quickly tossed aside. She looks in the mirror, and we fade to a memory of her and Joan with their newborns. Gwen has picked a middle name, Providence. She wasn’t joking about her seeing Nicole as a miracle.
And with that, the curtain falls on Chicago, the last of Fosse and Verdon’s original stage collaborations (they did a musical revue called Dancin’ in 1978). The show is an apt end to their stage partnership with its blend of musical comedy, satire, dark elements, and the notion that you simply can’t do it alone. Next week, the end is nigh — and Bob will likely get a visit from the Angel of Death since it’s time for the production of All That Jazz.
This show has been exquisite from start to finish, but “Nowadays” may have been its most successful yet in its blend of musical performances, meta-framework, and exploration of Gwen and Bob’s co-dependency. Let’s hope they can go out on an equally high note next week.
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