Bob Avian Dies: ‘Dreamgirls’ Producer, Broadway Choreographer & Michael Bennett Collaborator Was 83

Bob Avian, the dancer-turned-choreographer who played an integral role in such pivotal Broadway musicals as A Chorus Line, Dreamgirls, Company, Follies and Miss Saigon, died of cardiac arrest yesterday at a hospital in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He was 83.

His death, which was not Covid-related, was announced by spokesperson Matt Polk.

Born in New York City and a graduate of Boston University College of Fine Arts, Avian also studied at Boston Ballet School, and would begin his professional career as a dancer in more than a dozen Broadway musicals. Among them were the seminal 1960s productions of West Side Story and Funny Girl.

In 1968 Avian began a collaboration that would prove central to his legacy and Broadway history: On Promises, Promises he served as assistant choreographer to choreographer Michael Bennett, launching a creative partnership that would last for 20 years. Avian was associate choreographer and assistant director on such productions as Coco (1969), Company (1970), Follies (1971), Twigs (1971), Seesaw (1973) and God’s Favorite (1974).

Avian received his first Tony Award for his next collaboration with Bennett: The landmark 1976 musical A Chorus Line, which the duo co-choreographed. Avian and Bennett repeated the Tony feat two years later with Ballroom, with Avian also serving as a producer. (Bennett died at 44 in 1987 from AIDS-related lymphoma.)

In 1981, Avian was the lead producer on what would be one of the decade’s most acclaimed, popular and influential Broadway musicals: Dreamgirls, winner of six Tonys, including a Best Actress Award for the career-launching performance of Jennifer Holliday. Avian would also produce the national touring companies.

Avian next choreographed the London premiere of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies, following up by creating the musical staging for another Cameron Macintosh production, Miss Saigon. He then created the musical staging for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard for both London and Broadway, receiving his sixth Tony nomination.

Subsequent credits include his Olivier Award choreography for the Boublil-Schonberg musical Martin Guerre. Back in New York, he choreographed the hit Sondheim revue-style musical Putting It Together starring Julie Andrews at the Manhattan Theatre Club Off Broadway. The production opened on Broadway in 1999 with Carol Burnett taking over the Andrews role.

Avian choreographed the West End production of The Witches of Eastwick starring Ian McShane. He would go on to direct revivals of A Chorus Line on Broadway (2006), in London  (2013) and in 2018 at the Hollywood Bowl and New York’s City Center. He was featured in the 2008 documentary Every Little Step, a chronicle of the audition process for the 2006 Broadway revival.

Avian’s memoir Dancing Man: A Broadway Choreographer’s Journey, cowritten with Tom Santopietro, was published in 2020 by University Press of Mississippi.

Avian is survived by his husband, the director/producer Peter Pileski, and sister Laura Nabedian, five nieces and nephews, a great-nephew and a great-niece.

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