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Who is Michael Bennett?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 23, 2024
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Michael Bennett is an American playwright, choreographer, and dancer. He was born in New York in 1943, and died in 1987 at the age of 44. He won a number of Tony Awards, Drama Desk Awards, and a Pulitzer Prize in the course of his career.

Michael Bennett studied dance from a young age, and performed throughout his early childhood. He eventually left high school to tour with Westside Story in the role of Baby John, and received enough critical acclaim to establish himself on Broadway when he returned from the road. Throughout the early-1960s he danced on Broadway, beginning with Subways Are For Sleeping. Starting in the second half of the 1960s he began to choreograph dance routines for various shows, and although his first couple of attempts were failures, he eventually had a success with Promises, Promises.

In the mid-1970s Michael Bennett became involved in the Chorus Line project. Chorus Line used hours of interviews with Broadway dancers to build the most credible, true-to-life expression of the Broadway dance scene ever produced at the time. It follows the exploits of seventeen different dancers as they audition to be a part of a chorus line, with each character explaining their reasons for being involved in Broadway in the first place. It has resonated deeply with audiences since its first production, where it played for more than six-thousand shows. In 2006 it underwent a Broadway revival, and then went on to tour the United States.

Michael Bennett was originally brought in to simply observe the production of A Chorus Line, but as time went on he began to play a larger role in the choreography, eventually taking over entirely and directing. Later, Michael Bennett would claim that A Chorus Line was in fact his idea, a claim that led to a number of lawsuits, as well as him being ostracized from a number of groups within Broadway.

A Chorus Line wound up winning 12 Tony Awards, of which it won 9, including Michael Bennett for Outstanding Choreography and Outstanding Direction of a Musical. The musical also won a Pulitzer Prize, one of only seven musicals to receive that honor, and Michael Bennett was one the five recipients of the Pulitzer. He also won two Drama Desk Awards for A Chorus Line.

Michael Bennett went on to choreograph and direct a number of other famous Broadway musicals. His most notable after A Chorus Line was the musical Dreamgirls, for which he won a number of Tony Awards and Drama Desk Awards, including Outstanding Director of a Musical and Best Choreography again.

Throughout the 1980s, Michael Bennett struggled with various substance abuse problems, ultimately tearing down the relationships he had within Broadway. At the same time, he was struggling with AIDS, and the combination of drugs and the wasting disease led to a severe reduction in his work. He eventually passed away in the mid-1980s of lymphoma, related to the AIDS virus. Michael Bennett is remembered as one of Broadway’s greatest choreographers, and part of his legacy has been a donation of a substantial portion of his estate to help fund AIDS research.

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