Mike Malone, Director and Choreographer, Died at 63

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11 Dec 2006

Mike Malone, a director and choreographer who was a force in the black theatre community in Washington, D.C., and across the U.S., died Dec. 4. He was 63.



Mr. Malone made his mark as a director, choreographer, artistic director and teacher. With Peggy Cooper Cafritz, he co-founded the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in 1974. He choreographed the 1980 Broadway musical Reggae, which featured a book co-written by Melvin Van Peebles and the Broadway debut of Sheryl Lee Ralph. He was also a professor of musical theatre at Howard University, where his students included Debbie Allen and Lynne Whitfield.

"He told me I was a dancer," Allen told The Washington Post. "I had stopped dancing altogether after a rejection from the North Carolina School of the Arts. He was responsible for me finding my path when I got lost.''

He found what would become his most lasting creation in 1979 when he discovered the Langston Hughes work Black Nativity when sifted through old scripts in the basement of Cleveland's Karamu House. He was then artistic director of the black-oriented Ohio theatre. The play, which debuted on Broadway in 1961, told of the birth of Jesus Christ from a black point of view, with Christmas songs sung in a gospel style. He was immediately attracted to the material and soon staged it at Karamu.

Mr. Malone went on to direct Black Nativity at many U.S. theatres, including Chicago's Congo Square Theatre (where the work played the last three years) and Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater in 1994. The D.C. staging was nominated for two Helen Hayes Awards. He won the award for his choreography of Spunk at Studio Theatre.

"It is the only one of the traditional Christmas pieces that speaks to the beginning of Christmas, the birth of Christ," Mr. Malone said in 1994. "And I like it because it is so appealing to a black audience because of the gospel music, because of the vernacular, because of the performance."

He was in rehearsals for this year's Congo Square production of Black Nativity at the time of his death. The staging will now be dedicated to him.