Category Spotlight: Best Choreographer

Special Features   Category Spotlight: Best Choreographer On with the dance! A brief history of those who received one, two, many — or not one — Tony Award for choreography. The list may surprise you.
Bob Fosse
Bob Fosse

*

At the first Tony Awards ceremony in 1947, two awards were given for Best Choreographer. This was not a tie; rather, the Tony Committee chose to honor two separate winners. One went to Brigadoon's Agnes de Mille, who had revolutionized dance on Broadway in the prior five pre-Tony years with musicals like Oklahoma! and Carousel. The other went to Michael Kidd for Finian's Rainbow, pointing forward to what was about to become a new era of theatre dance. Jerome Robbins (High Button Shoes) won the following year, with newcomer Gower Champion (Lend an Ear) winning at the third ceremony. The nature of Broadway dance changed markedly in 1955 when Bob Fosse won for The Pajama Game; he was to win four Tonys in his first nine seasons.

More often than not, the Best Choreographer has not been working on the Best Musical; over the course of the 61 year history of the Tonys, the two awards have gone to the same show only 20 times (including Fiddler on the Roof and A Chorus Line, but not My Fair Lady or West Side Story). Slightly more often — on 23 shows — the Best Choreographer has been working with the Best Director; in a dozen of these cases, the Best Choreographer has been the Best Director.

The most frequent winners are, perhaps surprisingly, neither Jerome Robbins (West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, etc.) nor Michael Bennett (A Chorus Line, Dreamgirls, etc.); they each have three (along with two Best Director awards). One step ahead with four — so far — are Tommy Tune (My One and Only, Grand Hotel, etc.) and Susan Stroman (Crazy for You, Contact, etc.). This quartet of master choreographer/directors is topped by five-time winners Kidd (Guys and Dolls, Li'l Abner) and Champion (Hello, Dolly!, 42nd Street). Champion and Tune have three Best Director Tonys, Stroman has one.

Agnes de Mille
photo courtesy Anderson Ferrell

Two-time winners include de Mille, Donald Saddler (Wonderful Town, No, No, Nanette), Joe Layton (No Strings, George M!), and Kathleen Marshall (revivals of Wonderful Town and The Pajama Game); also Bob Avian (who shared two awards with Bennett) and Thommie Walsh (who shared two with Tune). Other names on the list of honorees include one-time winners Peter Gennaro (Annie), George Faison (The Wiz), Danny Daniels (The Tap Dance Kid), Wayne Cilento (The Who's Tommy), Savion Glover (Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk), Ann Reinking (Chicago revival), Rob Ashford (Thoroughly Modern Millie) and Jerry Mitchell (La Cage aux Folles). Also among the winners are several choreographers from the world of ballet: Michael Smuin (Anything Goes), Sir Kenneth MacMillan (Carousel revival), Matthew Bourne (Swan Lake), Twyla Tharp (Movin' Out), Garth Fagan (The Lion King), and Bill T. Jones (Spring Awakening). Some excellent choreographers, alas, have had no luck; these include eight-time nominees Onna White (The Music Man) and Graciela Daniele (Ragtime), and five-time nominees Patricia Birch (Grease) and Rob Marshall (Cabaret revival).

Meanwhile, heading the class — not surprisingly — is Bob Fosse (Pippin, Dancin'), with a seemingly unsurpassable record of eight Tony Awards for Best Choreographer.

(Steven Suskin is author of "Second Act Trouble," "Show Tunes" and "Must See: Brilliant Broadway Artwork," and is a columnist for Playbill.com. This article appears in the Playbill of the 2008 Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall.)

Jerome Robbins and <i>West Side Story</i> company.
Jerome Robbins and West Side Story company. Photo by United Artists
Today’s Most Popular News: