by Frank Rizzo
Many fans of Broadway musicals are riveted to the current television mini-series Fosse/Verdon on the FX Network. The eight-episode series, based on the biography Fosse by Sam Wasson and directed by Tommy Kail (Broadway’s Hamilton), follows the lives, careers, and relationships of film, stage, and television director-choreographer Bob Fosse, played by Sam Rockwell, and beloved Tony Award-winning actress-dancer Gwen Verdon, played by Michelle Williams.
Watching the series with particular interest in Stephanie Pope, who is featured in a revival of The Music Man at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam. (The run of the musical has been extended to Thursday, June 20.) Pope plays the comic character role of the mayor’s wife, Eulalie Shinn, but she proudly calls herself “a Fosse dancer,” having performed in many of his shows.
I talked with Pope, whom I saw in Fosse’s last original Broadway musical, Big Deal, during its out of town try-out in Boston in 1986. (The show closed shortly after it made it to Broadway, though his choreography earned Fosse his eighth Tony Award.)
In 1987, Pope played Helene in the tour launch of the revival of Sweet Charity, which starred Debbie Allen on Broadway. Fosse and Verdon were readying the company when he collapsed on the street in Washington, D.C. while walking with Verdon from his hotel to the theater where the tour was about to open that night. He died of a massive heart attack later that evening. He was 60.
What was he like that day?
“He rehearsed us like crazy and at the end we all gathered around and he made a speech, saying things like ‘Save your money,’ and things like that. We thought it was kind if an odd speech to give on an opening day.