How Fosse/Verdon Wove Together Famous Showstoppers, Today’s Broadway Voices, and Bold Arrangements for a Fresh New Sound

Interview   How Fosse/Verdon Wove Together Famous Showstoppers, Today’s Broadway Voices, and Bold Arrangements for a Fresh New Sound
 
Hamilton’s Alex Lacamoire and La La Land’s Steve Gizicki teamed up to deliver the A-plus music for the FX series.
Fosse/Verdon_FX_Production_Photos_2019_HR
Michelle Williams and Sam Rockwell Pari Dukovic/FX

Scoring any television show is a monstrous task. Music guides the emotional beats of the story and has become so integral to any on-screen experience that it’s actually bizarre to watch anything without a track. (Try it.) But music became indispensable to the stories on FX’s Fosse/Verdon.

So executive producers and showrunners Joel Fields and Steven Levenson, as well as executive producer and director Thomas Kail, called on maestros Alex Lacamoire (Dear Evan Hansen, Hamilton) and Steve Gizicki (La La Land) to be their music director and music supervisor, respectively, for the series about musical excellence.

Alex Lacamoire and Steve Gizicki
Alex Lacamoire and Steve Gizicki

The pair (who are also teaming up for the In The Heights film) lead every musical moment of the show: the rehearsal room scenes, the onstage performances, the underscoring tracks. Lacamoire entered the process early with casting; Gizicki once script drafts came in. Lacamoire crafted the series’ score and perfected performances; Gizicki served as the eyes and ears on set, coordinating music, dance, sound operators, and more.

But Lacamoire didn’t just rehearse and execute musical numbers with his cast and musicians, nor did Gizicki simply acquire song rights and book studios—though they did that, too.

Lacamoire and Gizicki conceptualize the musical storytelling for each episode. And while the staged reproductions of signature Fosse-Verdon musical numbers were scripted, they helped select the sections of those songs and every other millisecond of music. Choosing to record an acid rock rendition of “Simple Joys” during the Pippin episode? Lacamoire. Recording that version? Gizicki. Perfecting Michelle Williams’ singing as Gwen Verdon? Lacamoire. Finding the right song to capture Nicole Fosse’s downward spiral? Gizicki. And the duo weave together every musical aspect—song choices, cuts, instrumentation, orchestration, performance, recording—into the soundtrack of the eight-episode limited series.

Here, Lacamoire and Gizicki explain how they transformed the original numbers from shows like Sweet Charity, Damn Yankees, Cabaret, and Pippin to simultaneously emulate the impact of these artistic milestones and compose a story of Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon just as compelling and enduring.

Watch the series from the beginning on FXNetworks.com.

"Big Spender", Episode 1
ORIGINAL:

FOSSE/VERDON:

Steve Gizicki: “Big Spender” is a perfect example [of our teamwork]. I had initially cleared just the visual/vocal section that you see at the end [the full performance] before we go to the title card. But as we were exploring that [section], we realized this whole piece should be underscored by “Big Spender” and we should be mirroring what we’re seeing on screen. We should be constructing the song of “Big Spender” piece-by-piece, so that all the pieces come together at the end.
Alex Lacamoire: What was important to us was capturing the spirit of what those original recordings felt like. We had to do a bunch of takes until we got that opening fanfare of “Big Spender” to sound greasy, and grimy, and dirty. The first couple times we played it, it didn’t have quite enough swagger to it. All I knew is that when you pop on that 1968 recording, you feel something. There’s an intensity to it and there’s fire to that. So it was important for me that if that’s what it felt like back in the day, then I wanted to at least make it feel like that today in 2019. … There were early versions of the [episode] cut in which you would see the Fandango girls singing phrases of “Big Spender” before the big performance at the end of the scene. I remember saying to Tommy [Kail], "Dude, I think the edit looks fantastic, but wouldn’t it be great to really not hear the ladies sing anything from 'Big Spender’ so that you really build the anticipation and wait until you have the big release of seeing the song at the end?” They took my advice and recut it.
SG: And by the way, we got some of the best singers in New York to sing on it, too. Hats off to them.

WATCH: The Making of Fosse/Verdon’s Ever-Changing Title Card Sequences

“Cabaret” Episode 1
ORIGINAL:

FOSSE/VERDON:

Steve: A conversation we all had as we were prepping for Kelli [Barrett who played Liza Minnelli] is how much of an imitation is this versus how much of it is Kelli? Alex worked with Kelli really closely to calibrate that. You didn’t want it to be a parody. Kelli inhabited Liza without impersonating her. Tommy’s idea was he wanted [this song] to feel like, ‘Oh, it’s Liza and Bob on the set rehearsing the number or just having a drink.’ It’s not the actual song, but what it would feel like if Liza had let her hair down and was just kind of riffing on a song. So that [glissando on the word “flower”] was just something Kelli felt in the moment.

“Who’s Got the Pain?” Episode 2
AL: Hats off to Michelle and all the work that she did to capture Gwen’s voice. Both Michelle and Sam between every take always had an iPod next to them with one ear on, listening to recordings of Gwen talking, listening to recordings of Bob talking. In terms of being in the studio, that was a collaboration of trying to get a good performance. There are definitely times where Michelle would be like, “I think I can say that more Gwen” and we’d do another take. We were trying to find ways to stress certain words.
SG: I think we can’t underscore enough how phenomenal Michelle’s performances in this show are across the board. I remember that day in the studio when we were recording “Who’s Got the Pain?” She’s singing and I’m raising an eyebrow thinking, “That’s not right.” I went back and listened like, “Oh my God, that’s what Gwen sounds like. That’s not Michelle in the booth singing, that’s Gwen.”
AL: [For orchestrations] we probably had a few more strings on our version than they had in the original. Larry Blank, our amazing orchestrator, took it upon himself to not only recreate some of these old tracks, but also adapt them—meaning do his own take but still honor what it was these original tracks had. He thought to himself, "Hey, there’s no strings in the original on this, but maybe they would have done this back then had they had this many strings."
SG: When something’s live it has to pop and feel kind of big. That number is raucous anyway, so that’s really what I was after every time I played it.

“Wilkommen” Episode 3
AL: When I watched [the original cut], the intro was just a vamp and, for me, it just didn’t feel like a big Broadway number. If you were to turn off the music and just watch it, only hearing that vamp repeated, it wouldn’t feel like it’s building to something. When I watch it, it’s Bob feeling happy, feeling optimistic, and it’s us going into his mind and seeing what—in his mind—is the perfect opening to something. To a new day, to new life, to a new chapter, to a new episode. I decided, if it’s your fantasy, it felt old and vaudevillian and brassy and Busby Berkeley. You see these ladies popping out from the doors and it just felt to me like I wanted to razzle dazzle it—no pun intended. I came up with a demo, and that’s when it helps to be working with people you have a shorthand with and people who trust you. I feel like I know what it is that [choreographer] Andy [Blankenbuehler] would want—a fresh way to approach the song in a way that serves the story and serves the moment.
SG: The second half where he gets sucked down the hallway into the abyss… to create that we used our recording of “Wilkommen,” but then we also recorded the finale from Cabaret, spun it around backwards and threw it on top. Two Cabaret songs on top of each other.

Simple Joys” Episode 4
AL: That song just feels fun. It feels like there’s a little bit of muscle and attitude to it. I listened to the original 1972 cast album version of Pippin, there was some thought that “Simple Joys” feels like tiptoeing through something. There’s a little bit of bounciness to it that feels kind of light. I didn’t think that vibe was going to serve our story. We want the “Simple Joys” to underscore a scene of his bouts of addiction and impulses.
As for the acid rock version used as underscoring…
AL: I had mentioned to [the team], “Wouldn’t it be cool if the only music we hear in the episode are songs from Pippin the musical?” Once they started riffing on that they started inserting “Simple Joys” as transitional music, but then Joel Fields and Steven Levenson were pretty adamant about wanting to use those songs in a way that didn’t feel quite so chipper and quite so happy as they do on the Broadway cast recording from 1972. They said, “I want to hear a really messed up version of it. What if it sounded like The Police? And what if it sounded like acid rock?” I sent them a demo of me playing my guitar and singing. I thought it sounded crazy but they heard it and they’re like, “That’s exactly what we’re looking for.” I went along with their instincts, and they were absolutely right.
SG: We were all looking at each other as we were making this thinking, “Wow, we’re not sure America or the world is ready for this yet.” It was such Pippin insanity.
AL: Stephen Schwartz was very happy and he gave us a compliment about “I Guess I’ll Miss the Man.”

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