Kidd, Michael: Broadway and Hollywood Choreographer, Dies at 92

December 25, 2007–Michael Kidd, the choreographer of Broadway shows like Finians Rainbow and Guys and Dolls and Hollywood musicals like The Band Wagon and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, died on Sunday at his home in Los Angeles, of cancer. Most biographical sources give Mr. Kidds age as 88, but others claim he was actually 92.

On Broadway, Kidd won five Tony Awards: for Finians Rainbow in 1947, Guys and Dolls in 1951, Can-Can in 1954, Lil Abner in 1957, and Destry Rides Again in 1960. In 1997, he received a special Oscar in recognition of his services to the art of dance in the art of the screen.

Kidd's best-known film work was Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, a 1954 musical of the American frontier, in which he had the dancers perform the dances like work movements, wielding axes.

Anna Kisselgoff, former dance critic of the N.Y. Times, wrote that Kidds signature was characterization through energy, epitomized by a lovesick male clan going courting with an acrobatic challenge dance in Seven Brides.

Kidd was born in Brooklyn, the son of an immigrant barber, Abraham Greenwald. While at New Utrecht High School, he attended a modern-dance performance, was hooked, and began to study with Blanche Evan.

In 1936 and 1937, he attended City College of New York, intending to be a chemical engineer, but in 1937 he received a scholarship to the School of American Ballet. He later became a member of Lincoln Kirsteins Ballet Caravan, touring the country and dancing in shows like Billy the Kid.

From 1942 to 1947 he was a soloist with Ballet Theater, now called American Ballet Theater. In 1945, he created his own ballet, On Stage! In 1947, Kidd abandoned ballet for the Broadway musical; he never returned to a dance company.

His initial effort as a Broadway choreographer was Finians Rainbow, the Burton Lane-E. Y. Harburg fantasy, which brought Kidd the first of his five Tony Awards. He hit the jackpot in 1950, with Frank Loessers Guys and Dolls, one of the theaters greatest musicals. It brought Kidd his second Tony, based on his choreography for the numbers A Bushel and a Peck and Take Back Your Mink, the Luck Be a Lady crap game in a sewer, and the Havana nightclub dancing duel and brawl.

His first film as choreographer was the 1952 adaptation of the Frank Loesser hit Broadway musical Wheres Charley starring Ray Bolger in a repeat of his Broadway role. Kidds first big success in films came with the Fred Astaire musical The Band Wagon in 1953. The film, with songs by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz, included the now-famous Girl Hunt Ballet with Astaire and Cyd Charisse, a spoof on the hard-boiled private eye stories of Mickey Spillane, and the lyrical Dancing in the Dark, in which Astaire courts Charisse in Central Park.

Astaire asked that Kidd be hired to choreograph the film and stage the dances, reportedly because he was nervous about the ballet. Kidd later said that to make Astaire comfortable, he went to rehearsals and pretended that he was just making up the steps spontaneously.

Kidd also worked on Cole Porters Broadway musical Can-Can. Gwen Verdon won her first Tony in the show.

By 1954, Kidd worked on the Hollywood musical: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, directed by Stanley Donen and based on a Stephen Vincent Bent short story about seven backwoods brothers, the eldest played by Howard Keel, who go in search of brides and kidnap some from a nearby town. For the film, Kidd recruited ballet-trained dancers including Jacques DAmboise to join the musical actor Russ Tamblyn; his female dancers included a young Julie Newmar (billed as Julie Newmeyer) and Ruta Lee (then Ruta Kilmonis). The following year, Kidd worked on the Frank Sinatra-Marlon Brando film version of Guys and Dolls.

Kidd, who had acted in plays in the 1930s and 40s, made his movie acting debut in the 1955 musical Its Always Fair Weather, directed by Gene Kelly and Donen. He joined Kelly and Dan Dailey as a trio of old Army buddies holding a reunion in New York and dancing with ashcan lids on their feet. He also turned to directing both Broadway musicals like Lil Abner in 1956, which brought him another Tony for choreography and films like Merry Andrew (1958) with Danny Kaye.

After adapting his choreography for the film of Lil Abner in 1959, Kidd didn't make another film until he choreographed Star! with Julie Andrews in 1968 and Hello, Dolly! with Barbra Streisand in 1969. Neither was a success.

On Broadway, he worked as choreographer and director. These included Wildcat with Lucille Ball (1960), Subways Are for Sleeping (1961) and the ill-fated Breakfast at Tiffanys, which closed in previews in 1966. In 1972, Kidd directed and choreographed The Rothschilds, with Hal Linden and he staged the Broadway musical The Goodbye Girl, with Bernadette Peters, in 1993.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Kidd choreographed and directed TV specials. He also acted in a few films during those decades, most memorably as a faded director and choreographer trying to rescue a beauty pageant in the 1975 cult film Smile. In more recent years he directed scenes for Janet Jackson in the music videos When I Think of You and Alright.

Kidds first marriage to the dancer Mary Heater ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife, Shelah Hackett, a former dancer with whom he had worked on Broadway; two daughters, Kristine Kidd and Susan Kidd, from his first marriage; and two children from his second marriage, Matthew and Amy Kidd.

Kidds primary focus for any dance number was on the characters and the story. He once said, I always write a scenario first, even if it is a scenario for an emotion.