“Quite simply Gillian Lynne was a seminal figure in choreography for three generations, possibly four as her groundbreaking work in Cats is still being seen around the world.
When I was a boy Gillian Lynne was the go-to name when you thought of British musical theatre. She was a principal ballerina in 1939 and by the mid 1960s she was the choreographic force behind British musicals such as Pickwick and The Roar Of The Greasepaint – The Smell Of The Crowd.
It was her collaboration with Trevor Nunn on the Royal Shakespeare Company’s productions of Once In A Lifetime and The Comedy Of Errors that lead to both Gillie and Trevor’s key roles in the creation of Cats.
At that time British dancers who could also sing and act were few and far between. The idea of a British musical with dance at its heart was unthinkable. It is no exaggeration that Cats opened with the only cast available who could have played their roles. It was Gillie’s depth of contacts from her ballet roots to her work in contemporary dance that made it possible to open Cats in Britain and prove the naysayers wrong.
Even so there were those in America, notably our New York producers, who could not believe that such an achievement in dance was possible by a British choreographer. They sent the legendary Michael Bennett, riding high on the massive success of A Chorus Line, to check out her work and tell them that the show should be reworked for Broadway. This is what he wrote to Gillie…
“While I was in London I saw Cats and wanted to tell you that I loved, loved your work… I’m in rehearsals in New York on a new show (Dreamgirls) call me when you get to New York and we’ll get together. In the meantime, congratulations on your enormous success.”
I could not put it more eloquently myself.
In June 2018, Andrew and Madeleine Lloyd Webber celebrated the reopening of the New London Theatre, currently home to School of Rock, as the Gillian Lynne Theatre.