A director, choreographer, and dancer, Bennett studied dance and choreography in his teens, and staged several shows at his local high school. After playing the role of Baby John in “West Side Story” on U.S. and European tours, he began his Broadway career as a dancer in early ’60s musicals such as “Subways Are for Sleeping,” “Here’s Love,” and “Bajour.” He made his debut as a choreographer in the 12-performance flop, “A Joyful Noise” (1966), which was followed a year later by another failure, “Henry, Sweet Henry.” His first hit came in 1968 with “Promises, Promises,” when he created several original and lively dance sequences from Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s highly contemporary score. During the next few years he choreographed the Katherine Hepburn vehicle “Coco” (1969), two Stephen Sondheim shows, “Company” (1970) and “Follies” (1971), along with “Seesaw” (1973), on which he was also the director and librettist.
Then came “A Chorus Line,” which opened in July 1975 and closed nearly 15 years later in April 1990. In 1995 it was still the longest-running Broadway production, musical or otherwise. As its choreographer and director, Bennett devoted several years of his life to the show, auditioning, rehearsing, and directing productions throughout the world. He declined to spend any more time making a film version, and Richard Attenborough’s “uninspired” adaptation was released in 1985. Bennett’s next musical was the short-lived “Ballroom” (1978), but he had one more major hit with “Dreamgirls” in 1981, which earned him his seventh and final Tony Award. In the early ’80s he toyed with various projects including another musical, “Scandal,” but nothing materialized. In 1985 he signed as the director of “Chess,” but had to withdraw in January 1986 through illness. Later in the year he sold his New York property and moved to Tucson, Arizona, where he stayed until his death from AIDS in 1987.
A CHORUS LINE AND THE MUSICALS OF MICHAEL BENNETT, Ken Mandelbaum.
Source: Biographical information provided by MUZE. Excerpted from the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF POPULAR MUSIC, edited by Colin Larkin. © 2004 MUZE UK Ltd.
Photo credits: Photofest and Martha Swope