Michael Bennett born 8 April in 1943 (d. 1987)
Michael Bennett was a Tony Award-winning American musical theatre director, writer, choreographer, and dancer.
Born Michael Bennett DiFiglia to a Roman Catholic father and a Jewish mother in Buffalo, New York, he studied dance and choreography in his teens and staged a number of shows in his local high school before dropping out to accept the role of Baby John in the US and European tours of West Side Story.
Bennett's career as a Broadway dancer began in the 1961 Betty Comden-Adolph Green-Jule Styne musical Subways Are For Sleeping, after which he appeared in Meredith Willson's Here's Love and the short-lived Bajour. In the mid-1960s he was a featured dancer on the NBC pop music series Hullabaloo, where he met fellow dancer Donna McKechnie.
Bennett made his choreographic debut with A Joyful Noise (1966), which lasted only twelve performances, and in 1967 followed it with another failure, Henry, Sweet Henry (based on a Peter Sellers film). Success finally arrived in 1968 in the form of Promises, Promises, an adaptation of the film The Apartment, with a hip contemporary score by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. For the next few years, he earned praise for his work on Twigs with Sada Thompson, Coco with Katharine Hepburn, two Stephen Sondheim productions - Company and Follies (which he co-directed with Hal Prince) - and the Cy Coleman-Dorothy Fields' hit Seesaw, for which he was also the director and librettist.
The process of taking over the troubled Seesaw on the road, just six months before it was scheduled to open, convinced Bennett the usual way of developing musicals - rehearsals, out-of-town tryouts, previews, and opening - was no longer efficient and devised a better plan. He decided to do a show about the lives of 'gypsies' - chorus boys and girls - but rather than commission a script or write one of his own he let the story-line evolve through a series of group therapy-style workshops in which fellow dancers shared their feelings and frustrations about their careers. Hundreds of hours of audio tapes eventually led to the creation of his biggest and most personally-felt triumph, A Chorus Line, which opened in July 1975 at Joseph Papp's Public Theater in lower Manhattan. The reviews were ecstatic and the demand for tickets so huge it transferred uptown to the Shubert Theater, where it remained a sell-out hit for fifteen years. It won nine Tony Awards, the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
As its creator, choreographer, and director, Bennett devoted the next several years of his life to the show, auditioning, rehearsing, and directing productions throughout the world. Realising it was very much a theatrical piece intended to be played on a proscenium stage, he declined an offer to direct the screen version, although he agreed to join the project as a creative consultant, a position he left early on due to differences with the studio (Bennett believed the movie should be about the audition process for the filming of the stage play, rather than a movie version of the play itself). Director Richard Attenborough declined to use Bennett's original choreography, instead opting to hire Jeffrey Hornaday, and the end result was a disappointing critical and commercial failure.
Although A Chorus Line was very much an ensemble piece, the original cast's standout star was Bennett's old friend McKechnie. The two married in 1976, but separated three months later and eventually divorced, but remained close friends. The bisexual Bennett's relationships with men, including an early one with fellow dancer Larry Fuller, were more discreet, less-publicised, and tended to be lengthy.
A Chorus Line was a tough act to follow. Bennett's next musical was the unsuccessful Ballroom, but he found himself at the top again in 1981 with Dreamgirls, with a book and lyrics by Tom Eyen and music by Henry Krieger.
In the early 1980s, Bennett worked on various projects, but none of them reached the stage. His addictions to alcohol and drugs, notably cocaine and quaaludes, severely affected his ability to work and impacted on many of his professional and personal relationships. In 1985, he abandoned the nearly-completed musical Scandal, which he had been developing for nearly five years through a series of workshop productions, and signed to direct the West End production of Chess, but he had to withdraw in January 1986 due to his increasingly failing health, leaving Trevor Nunn to complete the production using Bennett's already commissioned sets. He moved to Tucson, Arizona, where he remained until his death from AIDS-related lymphoma at the age of forty-four. He left a sizable portion of his estate to funding research to fight the epidemic.
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