Michael Bennett (April 8, 1943 - July 2, 1987) was an American musical theater director, choreographer, and dancer.
He was born Michael Bennett DiFiglia on April 8, 1943 in Buffalo, New York to a mixed-religion couple (Catholic father, Jewish mother). In his teens he studied dance and choreography, and staged a number of shows in his local high school.
His first professional credit was the role of Baby John in the U.S. and European tours of West Side Story. His Broadway career as a dancer began in the 1961 Betty Comden-Adolph Green-Jule Styne musical Subways Are For Sleeping, after which he appeared in Meredith Willson's Here's Love (1963) and the short-lived Bajour. In the mid-60s he was a featured dancer on the NBC music series Hullabaloo, where he first met Donna McKechnie.
Bennett made his debut as the choreographer for A Joyful Noise (1966), which lasted only twelve performances, followed in 1967 by another failure, Henry, Sweet Henry (based on the Peter Sellers film The World of Henry Orient). Success finally arrived in 1968 in the form of Promises, Promises, an adaptation of the film The Apartment, with a hip contemporary score by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. For the next few years he earned kudos for his work on Katharine Hepburn's Coco, (1969), two Stephen Sondheim productions, Company (1970) and Follies, (1971), and Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields' Seesaw (1973), for which he was also the director and librettist.
In the early 1970s, Bennett began conducting a series of group therapy-style workshops to which he invited "gypsies" - chorus boys and girls - inviting them to share their feelings and frustrations about their careers. Hundreds of hours of audio tapes eventually led to the creation of his biggest and most personally felt triumph, A Chorus Line, which opened in July 1975 at Joseph Papp's Public Theater in lower Manhattan. The reviews were ecstatic and the demand for tickets so huge that it transferred uptown to the Shubert Theater, where it remained a sell-out hit for fifteen years. It won nine Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for drama.
As its creator, choreographer and director, Bennett devoted the next several years of his life to the show, auditioning, rehearsing, and directing productions throughout the world. Unfortunately, he declined to direct the film version, which in Richard Attenborough's hands was an unmitigated disaster. In Attenborough's defense, much of its failure could be attributed to the fact that the show was very much a theatrical piece intended to be played on a proscenium stage, and it simply couldn't translate well to the screen.
Although A Chorus Line was very much an ensemble piece, the original cast's standout star was Bennett's old friend Donna McKechnie. The two married in 1976, but separated a few months later and eventually divorced, but remained close friends.
A Chorus Line was a tough act to follow. Bennett's next musical was the unfortunately unsuccessful Ballroom (1978) starring Dorothy Loudon, but he found himself at the top again with Dreamgirls (1981), which revolved around an African-American singing girl group that strongly suggested the Supremes.
In the early 1980s, Bennett worked on various projects, but none of them reached the stage. In 1985, he signed to direct the London production of the musical Chess, but he had to withdraw in January 1986 due to his increasingly failing health, leaving Trevor Nunn to complete the production using Bennett's already commissioned sets. He moved to Tucson, Arizona, where he remained until his tragically early death from complications of AIDS on July 2, 1987.