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Ann Reinking - An Obituary

Ann Reinking – Dancer, Choreographer, Actor


Born November 10, 1949: died December 12, 2020 


 Ann Reinking, who has died aged 71, was a dancer and choreographer who lit up the stage with unbridled sensuality. While forever be associated with seminal American choreographer Bob Fosse, Reinking brought her own style and personality to her uninhibited moves.


As a choreographer, she won a Tony award for her 1996 revival of Chicago, which she had first appeared in as a dancer almost twenty years earlier. With a nod to the show’s original director, Reinking’s work was described as ‘in the style of Bob Fosse’, as she picked up the Fosse mantle with a series of updated routines.


The connection continued with Fosse (1998), a revue of her former creative and romantic partner’s greatest hits. Reinking conceived, co-directed and co-choreographed the show, which won a Tony for best musical. Its West End transfer saw Reinking win an Olivier for best choreography. The show’s success was the pinnacle of a career that saw Reinking become a music theatre star at a time when stage musicals were serving up some pretty grown up fare. 


Ann Holmes Reinking was born in Seattle, Washington, one of seven children to Walter and Frances Reinking (nee Harrison). Reinking began ballet classes aged eight, and won a scholarship to the San Francisco Ballet School. After graduating from high school, she took part in a Joffrey Ballet summer school. Recognising she could sing and act as well as dance, the school’s founder, Roland Joffrey, encouraged Reinking to gravitate towards musical theatre.


Reinking appeared in her first professional show, Bye Bye Birdie, at Seattle Opera House, in 1965. Aged eighteen, and with money saved from waiting tables, she upped sticks to New York, where she lived at the YWCA while taking classes at the American Ballet Theatre School.


Following a stint in the corps de ballet of the Radio City Music Hall, Reinking joined the ensemble for a tour of Fiddler on the Roof, and made her Broadway debut aged nineteen in the chorus line of the 1969 production of Cabaret. The same year she joined the ensemble of Coco, starring Katherine Hepburn as Coco Chanel, and went on to appear in Wild and Wonderful (1971)


In 1972, Fosse cast Reinking in Pippin. It was the beginning of a relationship that in part defined them both. Outwith her personal and professional liaison with Fosse, Reinking won awards for Over Here! (1974), was Tony nominated for her role as Joan of Arc in Goodtime Charley (1975), and appeared A Chorus Line (1976). 


Reinking’s relationship with Fosse gave her casting as Roxie Hart in Fosse’s original production of Chicago (1977) an extra frisson, especially as she was taking over the role from Fosse’s wife, Broadway star Gwen Verdon, from whom he was separated. 


Where tension might have been expected, the two women became life-long friends, with Reinking learning the show’s moves from Verdon. In 2019, TV mini series, Fosse/Verdon, saw Reinking played by Margaret Qualley. 


Reinking went on to appear in Fosse’s erotically charged revue, Dancin’ (1978), for which she was again Tony nominated. Fosse also cast Reinking in All That Jazz (1979), the director’s semi-autobiographical big-screen fantasia, which saw Roy Scheider play Joe Gideon, a hedonistic choreographer based on Fosse. Reinking played Kate Jagger, Joe’s dancer girlfriend. 


Reinking’s film career began in 1978 with Stanley Donen’s big screen satire, Movie Movie, and continued with the big screen version of Annie (1982), in which she sang and danced several numbers as Grace Farrell, the secretary of Oliver Warbucks, played by Albert Finney. 


She went on to appear in TV movie, A Night on the Town (1983) before playing one of two pregnant wives to Dudley Moore’s bamboozled bigamist in Blake Edwards’ film, Micki + Maude (1984). Other than a guest role in an episode of The Cosby Show (1987), this was Reinking’s last screen role, as she returned to the more adrenalin-pumped arena of live performance in Fosse’s 1986 revival of Sweet Charity.


Despite Fosse’s death the following year, the pair’s partnership was far from over. Reinking’s appearance as Roxie Hart in her 1996 revival of Chicago possessed as much hip-thrusting sass as she had when she first played her almost two decades earlier. In Fosse, too, Reinking took the stage for some shows in 2001.


In 1991, Reinking founded The Broadway Theatre Project in Florida. Playbill magazine described the institution as ‘the world’s most prestigious musical theatre arts education programme for high school and college students’.


Reinking married four times' first to actor Larry Small (1972), then to investment banker Herbert Allen Jr (1982-1989). With her third husband, businessman James Stuart (1989-1991), Reinking had a son, Christopher, who suffers from the rare genetic disorder, Marfan syndrome. Reinking went on to produce a documentary, In My Hands (2009), about working with children diagnosed with Marfan, and shaping them into a dance troupe.  In 1994, she married sports writer Peter Talbert.


While technically retired, Reinking’s long-running revival of Chicago was still shimmying its way through sold out shows right up to 2020’s pandemic enforced theatre closures. When they eventually re-open, Reinking’s high-kicking spirit can be guaranteed to be at the centre of chorus lines to come.


Reinking is survived by her husband, Peter Talbert, her son Christopher, and her six siblings, Richard, Robert, James, Jeffrey, Helen and Daniel.

The Herald, February 2nd 2021




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