Ann Reinking chats about Fosse, ‘Chicago,’ and her move to Arizona
There are many reasons Broadway legend Ann Reinking is being honored by the New York City Dance Alliance at a Manhattan gala on Oct. 1. But let’s let executive director Joe Lanteri tell it: “Her incredible versatility as a dancer, singer, actress, choreographer and teacher continues to inspire up-and-coming young talent,” he tells Newsday. “She has impacted the lives of countless Broadway professionals.”
That she has, from her start in Broadway ensembles in 1969 through roles in classics like “Pippin,” “Chicago,” “A Chorus Line” “Dancin’ ” and more. On the way, she’s amassed every award the field has to offer, including a Tony for her choreography of the current revival of “Chicago,” still going strong 21 years this November.
The Seattle native, 67, came to New York at 18 and began her career at the since-discontinued Corps de Ballet of Radio City Music Hall. She met legendary director-choreographer Bob Fosse while understudying Jill Clayburgh in Fosse’s musical “Pippin” and the two embarked on a six-year love affair in which she was both protégé and muse. Reinking played a version of herself in Fosse’s semiautobiographical fantasia of a film, “All That Jazz” (1979).
From her home in Arizona, she spoke with Newsday contributor Frank Lovece.
You’re so synonymous with Broadway — what are you doing in Paradise Valley, Arizona? (She, fourth husband Peter Talbert and Reinking’s son, Christopher, moved there from New York in 2005.)
There’s an expression that when you look for a house you’re also looking for what you need [in life]. Sometimes you walk into a house and it clicks, and it was the same way when I played in Phoenix [on a “Fiddler on the Roof” bus tour at age 18]. The beauty was astounding. . . . I just felt that this place spoke to me, and I’d always had this idea of eventually retiring here and having summers up in the Seattle area.
Is your husband from Arizona?
No, but he was a sports writer for The Golfer magazine and Tennis Week and he went out to report on an [Arizona country club]. So he called me and said, ‘You know, I really like it here. It’s just wonderful.’ So I took the opportunity and told him about my dream and he said, ‘That sounds like a good dream. Why don’t we think about that down the pike?’ And when the time was right we bought a house out here.
I gather you do still get away to New York and elsewhere, working with dance companies. What’s new?
I’m working with [Omaha’s] Ballet Nebraska, and they’re a lovely little boutique company. I’m doing a piece for them called “Momentum: Fosse Style!” I’m not really choreographing; I’m staging it and calling it “in the style of Bob Fosse.” It’s a huge compilation of numbers that were in “Chicago.”
You famously met Fosse [who died of a heart attack in 1987] on “Pippin.”
“Pippin” was, I guess you can say, the break that everyone needs and you hope that you have the talent to back up the opportunity. Bob utilized the ensemble so much, and since it was a small, repertory kind of cast I think all of us benefitted from it. He’s obviously been a very exceptional person in my life, and with Bebe [Neuwirth] and Joel [Grey, two of the presenters at the gala] as well.
Is it hard for you to watch “All That Jazz,” especially the heart-surgery scene?
I always have to look away. That footage was shot at [the Manhattan hospital] St. Luke’s and was part of their teaching then. . . . The deal was that if they allowed him to film an actual operation himself, they could have it for their archives. Isn’t that something? So it proved to be a great teaching tool as well.
The movie is fairly autobiographical, though there are many things that didn’t happen. I told Bob, “I know you’re doing this based on a part of you, but you’re not that hard to be with. You’re not that kind of person, really. Part of you is, but there are also many other parts of you.” And he said he didn’t want anyone to have pity on him, because then they wouldn’t get the true moral of the story, which is that glamour can kill and that if you don’t have a balanced life, you are going to become a slave to something that can become just like a drug and have a really serious downside.
That does help explain the whole let’s-move-to-Arizona thing.
I’m glad that I did see things early on, which is probably also a gift from Bob. That balance is key. I don’t know how to say this well, but I think when he realized what was happening to him it was too late, almost like a drug. But he was a remarkable friend, very true, and a devoted father — he loved Nicole [his daughter with third wife Gwen Verdon] very, very much.
Finally, there’s a Twitter account called “Real Ann Reinking” that claims to be your “official Twitter page” but which looks suspicious.
No, that’s not me. I’m not on Facebook, either, or Instagram. I’m very happy with just email and a phone — that’s enough.