The Broadway star Ann Reinking, who got her big break in the late 1970s when she was cast as the replacement Roxie Hart in the original production of Bob Fosse’s Chicago—inheriting the role created by the legendary Gwen Verdon—and then went on to become the director’s lover, muse, collaborator and keeper of his creative flame, died Saturday at the age of 71.
According to her family, Reinking died in her sleep in a hotel room in the Seattle area, where she was visiting one of her brothers. The cause is not yet known, Dahrla King, her sister-in-law, told The New York Times. “The world and our family have lost a vibrant, amazing talent and beautiful soul. Ann was the heart of our family and the life of the party,” Reinking’s family said in a statement issued on Monday. “We will miss her more than we can say. Heaven has the best choreographer available now.”
Reinking was an indelible presence on stage; a luminous, Joffrey Ballet-trained dancer who, with her distinctively husky singing voice and piercing beauty, moved from the chorus line in such shows as Cabaret, Coco, and Pippin, to taking starring roles in Dancin’, Sweet Charity, and the 1996 revival of Chicago. She also made an impact in Hollywood, starring in Fosse’s Oscar-nominated All That Jazz and the film version of Annie directed by John Huston, playing Grace Farrell, the secretary of the billionaire Oliver Warbucks. In a tribute published on Tuesday, The New York Times dance critic Gia Kourlas recalled the impact Reinking made in that film. “Wearing a silky yellow dress — it swirls around her legs like a partner — she begins with a jazzy, playful walk, pausing every few beats for a shoulder shimmy or a whirl,” Kourlas wrote. “She kicks and wilts like a rag doll. Dashing through a hallway, she hops over a chair, plays the harp with a couple of finger snaps and continues forward, spinning through space as if she’s gliding on wind — blurry, gleaming but indelibly articulate. What a daredevil! What abandon! In her exuberance, it feels like Ms. Reinking is showing us the sound of laughter.”
That her first big role on Broadway was replacing the four-time Tony winner Gwen Verdon was both fitting and prescient, as each was perhaps the most indelible, and often imitated, Broadway dancer of their respective generations. More significantly, the two would have their own long-term romantic relationships with Fosse (though only Verdon would marry him). The two women would go on to have an amiable friendship, one captured in the Emmy-winning TV series Fosse/Verdon. (Michelle Williams played Verdon and Margaret Qualley played Reinking; Sam Rockwell played Fosse.)
Reinking is survived by her husband, the sports writer Peter Talbert, her son, Christopher, and six siblings.