This morning, we woke to hear the sad news that British choreographer Gillian Lynne passed away last night at age 92. The original choreographer of Cats and Phantom of the Opera, Lynne worked on more than 60 shows on Broadway and the West End in her lifetime, and will be dearly missed by the dance world.
Lynne was born in 1926 in Kent, England. Despite her success in musical theater, she began her career as a ballet dancer at age 16, performing with Sadler's Wells Ballet, which later became The Royal Ballet. She was a leading soloist and became known for roles including the Black Queen in Checkmate and Queen of the Wilis in Giselle.
Her first choreographic credit came in 1963 with a work called Collages. Throughout the '60s she continued choreographing, creating ballets for companies including the Northern Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet and Australian Ballet, as well as working on musicals on Broadway (The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd, Pickwick and How Now, Dow Jones).
In 1981, she began working on Cats with Andrew Lloyd Webber—and the rest is history. Her jellicle moves became iconic and solidified Webber and Lynne's bond as an official collaborative duo. The show is now the fourth-longest-running Broadway show of all time, and recently played a revival in 2017.
Lynne and Webber were close collaborators. Photo courtesy DKC/O&M
She paired with Webber again for Phantom of the Opera in 1986, and many argue it showcases her best work. The musical is currently still performing in its 30th year on Broadway. Lynne also later worked with Webber on Aspects of Love, the stage version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Lynne is well-known for her work in Barbara Streisand's film Yentl and worked on various TV and film projects including "The Muppet Show," and the BBC dance drama "A Simple Man," which celebrated painter L.S. Lowry, and for which Lynne won a BAFTA award.
Throughout her storied career, Lynne was presented with scores of awards, including an Olivier award in 1981 for Cats, two Tony nominations for her work on Cats and Phantom of the Opera, and a special Olivier award in 2013. She was also named a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 2014 for her services to dance and musical theater.
Last month, Webber and Cats producer Cameron Mackintosh honored Lynne by renaming the original London theater home of Cats. The New London Theatre is now known as the Gillian Lynn Theatre, making Lynne the first non-royal woman to have a West End venue in her namesake.
Thank you, Gillian, for bringing more dance joy into this world. You will be greatly missed.