Dame Gillian Lynne DBE was a noted ballerina choreographer actress, director, dancer and actress. Born in Bromley London on 20 February 1926 Gillian’s gift for dancing was discovered by a doctor. She had been under-performing at school, so her mother took her to the doctor and explained about her fidgeting and lack of focus. After hearing everything her mother said, the doctor told Lynne that he needed to talk to her mother privately for a moment. He turned on the radio and walked out. He then encouraged her mother to look at Lynne, who was dancing to the radio. The doctor noted that she was a dancer, and encouraged Lynne’s mother to take her to dance school.
Gillian’s artistry led to a varied career unparalleled by many of her contemporaries her choreographic talents saw her contribute to shows on both side of the Atlantic with some of theatres biggest names.
Her breakthrough came when she conceived, directed and starred in Collages at the Edinburgh Festival in 1963 which featured a score by Dudley Moore. Broadway’s most powerful producer David Merrick was impressed by her innovative style and invited her to stage the musical numbers for The Roar Of The Greasepaint The Smell Of The Crowd in 1965. Her career would see her work on more than 60 shows in the West End or on Broadway.
Throughout her career Gillian worked with some of the greatest names in the industry on some of the biggest shows of the time but she will forever be remembered for her work on two of the world’s longest-running musicals Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats and The Phantom Of The Opera.
Cats was a musical which not only saw innovative dance move to the forefront of British musicals but it was also (alongside A Chorus Line) that helped revitalise a dilapidated Broadway. Few people realise just how close to the brink Broadway came, but such was the success of Cats and later The Phantom Of The Opera that the notion of a Broadway without theatre is impossible to imagine.
A dancer’s choreographer she was often described as naughty, mischievous, and saucy and we loved her for it. I doubt that anybody has ever taken a roll-call of the incredible talent to performed in Cats in any of its many worldwide incarnations but the legacy of her work on that show alone is inestimable.
Recently the New London Theatre was renamed the Gillian Lynne Theatre the first time a West End theatre has ever been named after a non-royal woman.
In the wake of her passing social media has seen wonderful tributes. Andrew Lloyd Webber tweeted “Farewell dearest Gillie three generations of the British musical owe so much to you”. On Facebook, creatives and performers remembered Gillian. Mitch Sebastian posted “I cannot find words… anyone who was privileged to spend time in a rehearsal room with Gillie will understand. She was a force of nature – an intense shocking sexy powerhouse of creativity.” Broadway’s Anthony Crivello posted “She was loved by so many, and touched us all. Look up “Inspirational” in the dictionary. You’ll find more pictures of “Gillie’ there.”
Gillian passed away yesterday (1 July 2018) at the Princess Grace Theatre in London. Theatres in London’s West End tonight will dim their lights to honour her memory.