- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 20, 2000

In life, Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse proved the ultimate creative duo her dancing set his choreography aflame.

Now the pair are forever enshrined at the National Theatre, where they were honored Sunday by the dedication of two brass seat plaques in their memory.

Miss Verdon originally had agreed to be present and accept the honor in her late husband's behalf. (He died in Washington in 1987 en route to a revival of his "Sweet Charity.") When she died Oct. 18, the loss cast a pall over the affair.

But animated holiday spirits and the appearance of a Broadway legend helped give the event an ebullient glow.

The legend was Chita Rivera, the famed singer-dancer who performed side by side with Miss Verdon and blazed through some of Mr. Fosse's most famous numbers.

Miss Rivera, a native Washingtonian, described Miss Verdon as an "extremely unassuming" friend who was concerned more about her work than any trappings of fame.

"She never really thought of herself as a star," said Miss Rivera, still an attention-grabbing beauty herself at 67. "One of [my] greatest honors was to dance with her."

As for her old friend "Bobby," Miss Rivera said his dance style from the beginning "was so unique that it was immediately identified as his own."

The two performers, she said, were meant for each other in art as well as in life.

"They were a set. She was his muse," she said. Miss Verdon and Mr. Fosse married and later separated, but they never divorced.

John B. Adams Jr., chairman of the theater's board of trustees, hailed the "prolific, creative" Mr. Fosse as "one of the foremost choreographers of modern theater."

He said he couldn't pick a favorite from Mr. Fosse's rich repertoire of shows.

"All of his work is terrific. He died too young," Mr. Adams said.

Donn B. Murphy, president and executive director of the National Theatre, said Miss Verdon proved theatrical to the end.

"Gwen Verdon knew how to make an entrance, how to dance and how to make an exit," he said of her unexpected departure.

Mr. Murphy also recalled Mr. Fosse's final days.

The "Sweet Charity" cast members were not told of his death until after their performance. Later, as they assembled at an atrium behind the Old Ebbitt Grill, they gathered in a circle and shared their memories of Mr. Fosse. Then they began chanting, "Bobby, Bobby, Bobby," louder and louder as the salute reverberated off the glass walls nearby.

Vincent Sandoval, a performer in "Fosse," learned his craft by performing some of Mr. Fosse's famed dance numbers.

"He was definitely an influence on me," Mr. Sandoval said. "I wanted to be just like him."

Patrons of the National Theatre Circle feasted on grilled salmon and strawberry shortcake at the JW Marriott Hotel. Cheery Christmas music and tables covered with glittery gold centerpieces in the shape of a dancer with a signature Fosse bowler hat added a festive air to the event.

Then it was off to the theater next door for a performance of "Fosse," the crackerjack compilation of the choreographer's greatest hits playing at the National Theatre through Dec. 31.

Though the evening had its share of bittersweet memories, trustee Frances Humphrey Howard boiled it down to its core.

"It's great to celebrate Christmas with dance," Mrs. Howard said.

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