Michael Gibson, Tony-Nominated Orchestrator Who Embraced the Brass in Kander and Ebb Shows, Dead at 60

Obituaries   Michael Gibson, Tony-Nominated Orchestrator Who Embraced the Brass in Kander and Ebb Shows, Dead at 60 Michael Gibson, the two-time Tony Award-nominated orchestrator who had a long working relationship with composer John Kander, died July 14 in New Jersey after a battle with lung cancer, his agent Mark Sendroff confirmed.
Michael Gibson
Michael Gibson

Mr. Gibson, 60, had been in hospice care recently. He is currently represented as co-orchestrator of Broadway's All Shook Up (with co-orchestrator Stephen Oremus).

Known for his jazzy, swingy work on Kander's Steel Pier and the recent revival of Kander's Cabaret, Mr. Gibson was Tony nominated in the category of Best Orchestrations for both projects.

Among his earlier orchestrating credits on Broadway were the Kander and Ebb projects Kiss of the Spider Woman (1993), Cabaret (the 1987 revival, for which he wrote additional orchestrations), The Rink (1984) and Woman of the Year (1981).

In Mr. Gibson's projects with Kander, there seemed to be a muscularity to his musical choices, as dictated by the composer's work. Brass and percussion were not foreign to his work; Steel Pier exploded with swing music, The Rink had a hint of vaudeville to it; saxes energized "It Isn't Working," a signature up-tempo company number in Woman of the Year.

All Shook Up music supervisor, arranger and co-orchestrator Stephen Oremus had worked with Mr. Gibson on a Vegas show (a Chaka Khan project, Signed, Sealed, Delivered) as well Off-Broadway musicals. Oremus said he knew Mr. Gibson had been a studio musician who worked with James Brown, and would bring rich experience to fleshing out the gospel, soul, brass and blues in the new musical that borrows songs made famous by Elvis Presley.

"I brought Michael in on the project, I invited him in to see the first workshop," Oremus told Playbill.com. "I knew as an orchestrator he would be able to convey the passion of the Elvis music, and complement the percussion work with brilliant horn writing — his horn writing was masterful."

Trombone was Mr. Gibson's primary instrument as a player, Oremus said. The two worked on several projects together, including Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party, music-directed by Oremus and orchestrated by Mr. Gibson.

Oremus was awed that Mr. Gibson could make a band of nine sound so powerful. "It sounded like 30," Oremus said, again noting the horn work —"the voicings of saxophones and the one trumpet we had" — of the Jazz Age-set show.

"There was no limit to his imagination," Oremus said, adding that in recent days, composer Lippa and Oremus visited the ailing Mr. Gibson, paying respects to a cherished friend and mentor.

"He was tireless, always working on several projects," Oremus said. "This illness was a bump in the road for him. He would wake up at four and five in the morning, eager to write. He really inspired me, not just how he dealt with his illness, but everything he did creatively. He taught me everything."

At the time of his death, Mr. Gibson was preparing to co-orchestrate the new Chita Rivera life-story revue, The Dancer's Life, with orchestrator Danny Troob, Sendroff said. The new show bows this coming season and will surely include work by Kander and Ebb.

Also among recent projects for Mr. Gibson was the scoring of a symphonic evening of songs by Kander and Ebb.

As orchestrator of the film, "Grease," he has a platinum soundtrack album to his credit. Mr. Gibson orchestrated more than 100 shows for Broadway, Off-Broadway or regional theatres. On Broadway, he contributed orchestrations to The Boy From Oz, the 1999 You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, A Grand Night for Singing, My Favorite Year, 1992's Guys and Dolls (he orchestrated the "Crapshooter's Dance"), Meet Me in St. Louis, Chu Chem, Mail, 1987's Anything Goes, Roza, My One and Only, Onward Victoria, 1976's Pal Joey and Over Here!

Stephen Flaherty, the composer of My Favorite Year, told Playbill.com, "Michael Gibson was a true artist who used orchestral color as his medium. I just loved his orchestrations. Who didn't? Just last year Michael and I both spoke on a panel that was sponsored by the Dramatists Guild. The topic was the composer/orchestrator relationship. I was not only impressed at the breadth of Michael's knowledge and how well he spoke about the elusive relationship between composer and arranger, but also by his humanity and humor. Both of those qualities are apparent in anything he did. All of us who love musical theatre will truly miss him."

Mr. Gibson's wife, Ellen, and son Andrew are among survivors.

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