'Hamilton's' Alex Lacamoire and 'La La Land's' Steven Gizicki on 'Fosse/Verdon's' Dream Musical Collaboration
FX’s much-heralded limited series Fosse/Verdon explores the decades-long tumultuous personal and professional relationship between choreographer/director Bob Fosse and dancer/choreographer Gwen Verdon.
The television show, available on demand, also launched a new creative partnership—thankfully a much less tempestuous one—between the show’s supervising music producer/music director/composer Alex Lacamoire and music supervisor Steven Gizicki.
The two worked closely together overseeing all the musical elements, of which there were many given Fosse’s involvement in such plays as Sweet Charity, Cabaret and Chicago.
The project, which is a prime Emmy contender, reunited Tony and Grammy-Award winner Lacamoire with much of the Hamilton team, including Fosse/Verdon exec producer/director Thomas Kail, co-producer/choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler and exec producer Lin-Manuel Miranda, as well as with Dear Evan Hansen book writer and Fosse/Verdon exec producer/writer Steven Levenson.
Grammy Award-winner and former Lucasfilm and Walt Disney Animation exec Gizicki came onboard following his work on Damien Chazelle’s Oscar-winning La La Land.
As production began Lacamoire met regularly with Kail and Levenson as the story took shape. “I was very curious to know what songs would be featured, what kinds of choreography steps would we be syncing to,” he says. He worked with the team to determine which sections of the famous songs, such as episode one’s big number, Sweet Charity’s “Big Spender,” worked to best serve the series and to make sure the musical statements rang true.
Gizicki came aboard later as the scripts further coalesced. “The first thing I did is I dove into a maximum amount of research. I devoured the book (Sam Wasson’s Fosse) the series is based on, I watched every piece of Fosse’s work that I could get my hands on and I researched what music Fosse loved,” he says. “Then Alex and I connected and we formulated a plan on how to execute these things because what I bring to the table as the music supervisor is, ‘OK, how do I take what’s in Thomas Kail’s head and make it happen.’”
The pivotal part of realizing Kail’s vision entailed licensing the songs from the aforementioned musicals, as well as shows like Damn Yankees, Pippin and All That Jazz. “Most of the rights holders were thrilled to be involved with this show because we are exposing their music to a new audience. A show like Damn Yankees, for example, is really not quite as visible as Cabaret,” Gizicki says. Many episodes were crafted around the music from the plays, such as episode 4, which is built around Pippin. “Every piece of music in that episode is from Pippin. That took quite a while to negotiate because things kept changing and every change needed to be re-approved by [Pippin composer] Stephen Schwartz. There was no opposition, it was just a complicated process.”
In-between the licensed music—Gizicki also sourced music integral to Fosse’s life not featured in any of the musicals—Lacamoire composed the score for the episodes. “I really personally got a lot of joy in being able to weave music in and out of the songs,” Lacamoire says, calling his underscore “connective tissue [tying] one moment to the other” that was original, but fit seamlessly with the theatrical numbers. “I was really excited to try to apply what I have learned so far from Broadway into the TV world.”
Writing the series’ theme as well as scoring the episodes provided Lacamoire with a creative outlet, but eventually as the shooting progressed and Lacamoire’s multiple duties took up increasingly more time, Lacamoire brought in composer Nathan Barr to score the latter episodes. “I’d gotten very used to being a one-stop shop, where in a show like Hamilton, not only did I orchestrate, conduct and do all that stuff, I had a very specific idea of how I wanted the music to sound,” he says. "For Fosse, I wanted to try to do a similar thing and oversee all of it, but the job of composing original music was one job too many,” he says with a laugh.
“Alex really is Superman,” Gizicki says. “We made eight musical movies within a very short time span with a limited budget. Within television, schedules start to lay on top of each other and Nate came on, but it was really not caused by anything other than just aiming really, really high.”
As if their to-do lists weren’t full enough, the pair also worked together on the soundtracks that Atlantic Records digitally released with every episode. “It was definitely a challenge for us because not only were we trying to serve these songs as they would work on the TV show, but we are also keeping [the soundtrack] in mind,” Lacamoire says, “so it became a mixture of knowing that in the TV show you’d only need 32 bars of the song, but we would want to record the other 105 bars so we could have a complete track to put out in the world.” In other cases, the music team would prepare a fully orchestrated take of a song for the soundtrack that appeared in a stripped-down version in the series.
While Fosse/Verdon was Lacamoire’s first television experience, on-camera musicals are Gizicki’s specialty. “What I bring to the table is a lack of fear,” he says. “I try to be incredibly over-organized as possible heading into a shoot, everything completely locked down, so inevitably when something goes wrong or changes, you have the time and flexibility to be able to accommodate that.”
Though they hadn’t met before Fosse/Verdon, Lacamoire and Gizicki reunited to work on Hamilton: The Exhibition, which opened in Chicago in April and are now collaborating on the movie version of Miranda’s In the Heights. “I’m grateful to Fosse for bringing us together,” Gizicki says. “It’s been a great, great ride so far.”