By Maureen Lee Lenker
December 14, 2020 at 08:04 PM EST
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Credit: Everett Collection

Ann Reinking, the Tony-winning actress, singer, dancer, and choreographer, died Saturday at 71. Her manager, Lee Gross, confirmed her death to the Associated Press.

Reinking's family said in a statement to Variety, "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." The family added, "Heaven has the best choreographer available now. I'm sure they are dancing up a storm up there! Annie, we will love and miss you always!!!"

Reinking was beloved for her skills as a triple threat on stage and screen. Perhaps best known for her personal and professional association with director-choreographer Bob Fosse, Reinking famously replaced Gwen Verdon as Roxie Hart in the original production of Chicago. In the 1996 revival, she reprised the role and won the Tony for Best Choreography. (That production was still running until Broadway's COVID-19 shutdown.)

Reinking also helped create the musical Fosse, a showcase of the legendary choreographer's work. She was the co-creator, co-director, and co-choreographer, working on the project alongside Richard Maltby Jr. and Chet Walker. She won the Olivier Award for Best Theatre Choreographer for her work on the 2000 West End production of the show.

She also made her mark on screen, appearing in a role loosely based on her own relationship with Fosse in his semi-autobiographical All That Jazz. She also played Daddy Warbucks' secretary, Miss Grace Farrell, in the 1982 adaptation of Annie and starred as title character Micki in 1984's Micki & Maude.

Credit: L.Wiggers/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Born Nov. 10, 1949, in Seattle, Reinking was a dancer from a young age, training with Ballet Russes dancers and making her professional performing debut at the age of 12 in a production of Giselle with the English Royal Ballet.

She moved to New York City at 18, dancing in the ballet corps at Radio City Musical Hall. She made her Broadway debut in Cabaret and went on to work as a chorus dancer in shows like Coco, Wild and Wonderful, and Pippin. It was during Pippin that she first began a relationship with Fosse, the show's director and choreographer, and became his protégé. The two began a romantic affair while Fosse was still married to (but legally separated from) Gwen Verdon. As his new muse, Reinking stepped into Verdon's shoes in more ways than one.

She received award nominations for her role of Maggie in 1974's Over Here! as well as her portrayal of Joan of Arc in 1975's Goodtime Charley. She also famously replaced Donna McKechnie as Cassie in the original production of A Chorus Line, followed by her then most well-known role as Roxie Hart, replacing Verdon.

Reinking ended her relationship with Fosse in 1978, the same year she appeared in his revue Dancin' and received a Tony nomination for her work. Their creative partnership continued, and Reinking always acknowledged Fosse as the major influence on her work as a choreographer.

She came back into the public eye in 2019, when she was portrayed by Margaret Qualley in the FX series Fosse/Verdon. "Bob was beloved by people, very intelligent people, for their entire lives, and he had tremendous loyalty from everyone," Reinking told The New Yorker at the time, still effusive in her respect for him. "I know he has a reputation for being abusive, but he's not. That's the thing that bothers me, is that I fear that they might [portray him as] abusive… He felt that any step, even if it's on sand — it's always footprints in the sand, and it can get washed away by wind or the sea. It doesn't matter. It's that important that it existed at all."

Reinking continued to find success on Broadway and with Fosse, replacing Debbie Allen in a revival of Sweet Charity in 1986. She returned to the stage after having a son in 1991 in the national tour of Bye Bye Birdie, costarring Tommy Tune. She maintained a relationship with the musical, choreographing a 1995 ABC television movie version.

She basically fell into her second go at playing Roxie Hart on Broadway. She had retired from performing in 1996 when she was asked to choreograph a four-night-0nly concert staging of Chicago for City Center's annual Encores! series. She agreed to reprise the role when producers could not find anyone they thought suitable. The production was such a hit that the cast, including Reinking, Bebe Neuwirth as Velma Kelly, and Joel Grey as Roxie's husband Amos Hart, followed it to Broadway for the now-famed '96 revival.

The revival won numerous Tony Awards, including Reinking's for choreography, and it remains the second longest-running show on Broadway, after The Phantom of the Opera, and the longest-running revival in history.

"Our hearts are broken. We are still is shock by her sudden passing," the Chicago team said in a statement. "The American theater has lost one of its brightest stars. She left us too soon, but her artistry will endure and be shared for generations to come. On behalf of the entire Chicago family, we send our deepest condolences to her husband Peter, her son Chris and her entire family. Our hearts and thoughts are with them during this time."

In 1998, Reinking helped conceive and bring the revue Fosse to the stage, earning a co-nomination for the Tony for Best Direction of a Musical.

Reinking is survived by her husband, Peter Talbert, and son Chris.

This story has been updated with a statement from the producers of Chicago.

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