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Archive for Thursday, October 19, 2000

Legendary Broadway dancer Gwen Verdon dies

October 19, 2000

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— Gwen Verdon, Broadway's premier female dancer who was the seductive Lola in "Damn Yankees" and the saucy, love-struck Charity in "Sweet Charity," died Wednesday at 75.

Verdon died in her sleep at the home of her daughter in Woodstock, Vt., said her agent, Sam Cohen.

The lithe redhead did her best work with director and choreographer Bob Fosse, whom she married in 1960. The dancer worked with Fosse not only in "Damn Yankees" (1955) and "Sweet Charity" (1966), but in "New Girl in Town" (1957), "Redhead" (1960) and "Chicago" (1975).

She won four Tony Awards, beginning with "Can-Can," the 1953 Cole Porter musical.

She was first cheered by Broadway audiences in the Porter musical, which starred the French chanteuse Lilo. The then-unknown Verdon stopped the show with her sexy "Garden of Eden" ballet.

Two years later, she was elevated to stardom as the devil's amorous assistant in "Damn Yankees," a musical about a baseball fan who sells his soul so he can play for his favorite team, the Washington Senators.

The show's first poster featured Verdon in a baseball uniform, but when ticket sales lagged the advertising was changed. Verdon was put in sexy black lingerie. Box-office receipts soared. The show ran for more 1,000 performances.

Fosse, whom she married in 1960, created the dances for "Damn Yankees" as well as for Verdon's four other Broadway musicals. In "New Girl in Town," based on Eugene O'Neill's "Anna Christie," she played a former prostitute who returns to her New England roots.

In 1959, Fosse tailor-made "Redhead," a murder-mystery musical set in Victorian England, for her. He did the same with "Sweet Charity," based on the Federico Fellini film "Nights of Cabiria." In it, Verdon played Charity Hope Valentine, a taxi dancer who wore her heart on her sleeve.

"Chicago," which opened in 1975, featured Verdon as the Windy City murderer Roxie Hart. The Kander and Ebb musical is currently enjoying a long-running revival on Broadway.

Verdon was born on Jan. 13, 1925, in Culver City, Calif. Forced to wear corrective boots as a child because of badly bent legs, she took dance lessons to strengthen them.

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