While the music, lyrics, dialogue and performances are all pertinent to a great musical production there is no denying that the artistic director is vital in the success of a show. That is why we would like to introduce you to some of the top “behind the scenes” professionals that have brought life to the staging of some of our favorite musicals.
10. Trevor Nunn
Born in Suffolk, England, Trevor Nunn is a world renowned director of theatre, film and television. He has worked at many reputable theatres including the Royal Shakespeare Company and The Royal National Theatre, where he served as the Artistic Director for both. His work has touched on genres such as musicals, drama and opera.
His love for directing came at a young age when he attended Northgate Grammar School. Peter Hewett was his English teacher who also served as the school’s director of plays. This educator persuaded Nunn to follow his dreams after he left and helped him get into Downing College in Cambridge. It was while studying there that Nunn became associated with Ian McKellen.
Out of the countless films, dramas, musicals, television productions and many other works, Nunn is most noted for his work on Cats and Les Misérables. Nunn has been nominated for numerous awards including the Tony for Best Direction of a Musical, the Tony for Best Direction of a Play, the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Director and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Director of a Musical. His work on Cats and Les Misérables won him the Tony Award in his category.
9. Tommy Tune
This next artistic director has won an astounding ten Tony Awards. Born in Texas this director made his start as a dancer in the show. He has appeared on Broadway in Baker Street, A Joyful Noise and How Now Dow Jones. From there he went on to direct and create fantastic productions.
He won Tony Awards for his work on The Will Rogers Follies, Grand Hotel, A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine and received a Tony nomination for directing The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Films he has worked on include Hello Dolly, The Boy Friend and Mimi Bluette…fiore del mio giardino.
Not one to always sit behind the scenes, Tune performed in Las Vegas for the first time starring in EFX, which was a production at the MGM Grand Hotel. Tune was also designated a Living Landmark by the New York Landmarks Conservancy in 2009.
8. George C. Wolfe
Our next director is a man who is perfectly happy sitting behind the scenes taking on the part of director and writer. Born in Kentucky Wolfe was a student at Frankfort High School where he got his first taste in the performing arts. Following secondary education Wolfe attended Kentucky State University but transferred to Pomona College in California to pursue an education in the theatre.
After graduating he taught at the Inner City Cultural Center in Los Angeles and then moved on to New York City where he earned his MFA in musical theatre in dramatic writing at New York University.
Yet, it was with the 1991 musical Jelly’s Last Jam, which is the story of Jelly Roll Morton, that Wolfe gained national notoriety. It opened in Los Angeles and quickly moved to Broadway where it was nominated for eleven Tony Awards.
From there he went on to direct Angels in America: Millennium Approaches and subsequently won the Tony Award for his work. Wolfe’s second Tony Award was won for his work on the hugely successful Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk.
7. Joshua Logan
Our second Texan to make it on the list hails from Texarkana. Born in 1908, Logan is noted for directing such works as Charley’s Aunt in 1940, Annie Get Your Gun in 1946, Mister Roberts in 1948, South Pacific in 1949 and Fanny in 1954. Yet he too started out in the show.
Logan debuted on Broadway in 1932 as an actor but quickly made his way to the assistant stage manager position. It didn’t take long for him to become a director and he found himself working in Hollywood in the mid-1930s. After his time in California Logan returned to Broadway and directed On Borrowed Time, I Married an Angel, Knickerbocker Holiday and the aforementioned Charley’s Aunt.
Awards won by Logan include the Tony Award for Best Musical for South Pacific in 1950, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1950 also for South Pacific, the Tony Award for Best Play for Mr. Roberts in 1948 and three Tony Awards for Best Director for Picnic in 1953, South Pacific in 1950 and Mister Roberts in 1948. Logan also won a Golden Globe Award for Best Director for Picnic and a Writers Guild of America Award for Best Writing for Mister Roberts among many more awards.
6. Gower Champion
This next director wore many hats as well including actor, choreographer and dancer. Born in Geneva, Illinois his family moved to California and he was raised in Los Angeles. When he was fifteen he and his partner Jeanne Tyler danced in nightclubs under the title “Gower and Jeanne, American’s Youngest Dance Team.”
Champion went on to Broadway where he first worked as a dancer and choreographer. While there he met his wife Marjorie who would not only become his next dance partner but his life partner as well.
The two would work together as well on musical films like Mr. Music with Bing Crosby, a Show Boat remake in 1951, Lovely to Look At, Give a Girl a Break, Jupiter’s Darling, and Three for the Show. They also shared a television career with a few variety shows shaped for them and The Marge and Gower Champion Show on CBS in 1957. It was sitcom based on their experiences in show business.
Yet it was in 1948 when Champion first began to direct and he staged Lend an Ear for which he won his first of many Tony Awards. He has won several more Tonys including three for Best Choreography, three for Best Direction of a Musical. One of his most notable works are Hello Dolly!, Bye Bye Birdie and 42nd Street.
5. Jerome Robbins
Not only is Jerome Robbins known for his work as a director on Broadway, he is also known for his choreography in the world of ballet and his direction in movies and television. He has created more than sixty ballets including Fancy Free, Afternoon of a Faun, The Concert, Dances at a Gathering, In the Night, In G Major and many more.
Broadway shows he has worked on include On the Town, Billion Dollar Baby, High Button Shoes, West Side Story, The King and I, Gypsy, Peter Pan, Miss Liberty, Call Me Madam and Fiddler on the Roof. For all of his works Robbins has won countless awards in many different arenas.
Some of his awards include an Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Broadway Musical, three Tony Awards for Best Choreography, two Tony Awards for Best Direction of a Musical, an Academy Honorary Award, a Drama Desk Special Award, the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing and the Kennedy Center Honors in 1981.
4. Bob Fosse
This legendary director, whose reputation proceeds him, was the son of a Chicago vaudevillian and began performing in vaudeville when a young boy and moved to burlesque shows by time he was a teenager.
As a choreographer he has won eight Tony Awards but only one for direction. Fosse was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director for his work on Cabaret and he won over Coppola for The Godfather.
Yet it was in 1960 when Fosse first became director on a work titled Redhead, for which Fosse won a Tony for Best Choreography. He went on to direct Sweet Charity in 1966 and Chicago in 1975.
Other awards won by Fosse were Best Direction of a Musical in 1973 for Pippin and the BAFTA Award for Best Direction in 1973 for Cabaret.
3. Michael Bennett
Also wearing more hats than that of director, Michael Bennett was also a writer, choreographer and dancer on Broadway and in many other arenas. His best known works are Promises, Promises, Follies, Company and A Chorus Line.
Bennett left high school to tour with a production of West Side Story in the role of Baby John. From there he went on to dance on Broadway in a great deal of productions but his direction on Follies, which won him a Tony Award took Bennett in a new direction.
The most notable work from his repertoire is A Chorus Line. It was for this that Bennett won another Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical, a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and Obie Award for Special Citations, a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Direction and Outer Critics Circle Special Award.
2. George Abbott
The director in the number two slot of our list had many great works under his belt by time he died in 1995. His stage direction includes works like Love ‘em and Leave ‘em, Chicago, Gentlemen of the Press, Lilly Turner, Twentieth Century, Small Miracle, Three Men on a Horse, Jumbo, Room Service, Brown Sugar, The Boys From Syracuse, Too Many Girls, Billion Dollar Baby, High Button Shoes, Where’s Charley?, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Fiorello!, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Damn Yankees. This list only touches on his stage productions and his film direction list is almost as long.
Abbott has won countless Tony Awards including Best Direction for Fiorello! and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. He has also won a Kennedy Center Honors, a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, a Laurence Olivier Award and a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Direction.
1. Hal Prince
Hal Prince takes the number one spot for direction on our list simply for the twenty-one Tony Awards he has won in the past fifty years. The beginning of his career Prince began as an assistant stage manager under the number two man on our list George Abbott.
But success didn’t come easy and after many failed productions Prince nearly gave up theater all together until he got recognition with Cabaret. Some of his other success came when he paired up with Stephen Sondheim. This collaboration spawned works like West Side Story, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures and Sweeney Todd.
Besides musical theater, Prince has also dabbled in opera working on productions of Madame Butterfly and Turandot.
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