Playbill On-Line cited The Times' obituary of the actress and reported, as the paper did, that she died in Palm Springs, CA, Nov. 11. Playbill could not get independent confirmation of her death, and, per policy, cited the source newspaper. The Times did not cite a source for its information.
A spokesman from the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization said his office learned about Sergava's passing by reading the Times. Calls from friends of Sergava came into the R&H office Dec. 4 indicating a mistake had been made.
After receiving an e-mail suggesting Sergava was indeed alive, Playbill On-Line contacted veteran dancer and choreographer Gemze de Lappe, a protégé of Oklahoma! choreographer Agnes de Mille. de Lappe said Dec. 4 that she had heard about the Times piece and that Sergava is living in an Upper West Side nursing home.
"She is alive," de Lappe said, adding that her caretakers wanted privacy for Sergava, who is thought to be 94. de Lappe said the Times had been informed about Sergava's status and the paper was expected to address the matter in its Dec. 5 edition.
In an on-line correction dated Dec. 4, apparently posted late on Thursday after the obituary was taken down, The Times did admit the mistake was due to a "reporting and editing error" that omitted attribution. The paper based the obit on an item that ran in The Daily Telegraph of London Nov. 29. There are various spellings of Sergava's first and last name, depending on sources. The Internet Broadway Database spells her first name as Katharine, while books such as Ethan Mordden's "Rodgers & Hammerstein" indicate Katherine as the spelling.
Sergava's other major musical credit on Broadway was Look, Ma! I'm Dancin'!
The actress was part of a revolution in American theatre: In Oklahoma!, she played the mute dance double of the lead character of Laurey, expressing the fantasies, hopes and horrors — the inner life — of a character as never before in a musical comedy.
Agnes de Mille's choreography, Richard Rodgers' music and Oscar Hammerstein II's book and lyrics helped push the form into the realm of what would be called "musical drama." In dance shoes, Sergava seemed to burst through the scenery as the troubled and thrilled Laurey in the ballet sequence that ended Act One.
According to Ethan Mordden's book, "Rodgers & Hammerstein," de Mille had to fight for the casting of the European-looking Sergava.
In the recent London and Broadway revival of the classic show, the actors playing Laurey, Curly and Jud danced their own "ballet" sequence, the first time this happened in a major production.