Michael Bennett was born Michael DeFiglia on April 8, 1943 in Buffalo, NY. He studied dance and choreography in his teens, staging several shows at his high school. His first big break was winning the role of Baby John in the international tour of West Side Story. From there, he moved on to chorus work on Broadway, performing in Subways Are For Sleeping, Here's Love, and Bajour. In 1966, he made his debut as choreographer for the 12-performance flop A Joyful Noise. The following year, his next project, Henry, Sweet Henry flopped as well. In 1968, he provided choreography for the long-running hit Promises, Promises and his career as a choreographer sky-rocketed. He followed this success with the Katharine Hepburn vehicle, Coco (creating several breath-taking fashion show numbers).
In 1970, he choreographed Sondheim's ground-breaking Company. He and Hal Prince collaborated again (this time with Bennett co-directing) the following year on Follies. Prince was responsible for the book scenes and Michael staged all of the musical numbers. The beauty of the legendary physical production fixed Michael as one of Broadway's leading director/choreographers. His first solo directorial job was 1973's Seesaw (on which he was also a librettist).
|"Michael...is a director who is not very interested in making places onstage. He is much more interested in making events."
– Robin Wagner
Following Seesaw, he began the project for which he is most remembered and revered. He presided over discussion groups of dancers was they talked about their lives and the difficulties of being dancers. The sessions were taped and the material eventually became A Chorus Line. By the time it had completed its monstrous Broadway run, it became one of the longest-running and most popular shows in Broadway history.
The success of A Chorus Line did not prevent him from a failure. Ballroom closed after a few weeks on Broadway at almost a total financial loss.
This failure didn't prevent him from forging on. He soon began working on workshops for Dreamgirls which turned into the second biggest hit of his career.
Life post-Dreamgirls was difficult on Michael. His marriage to Donna McKechnie ended in divorce (although they remained close friends). His drug use escalated, as did his bisexual promiscuity. He abandoned work on a new musical, Scandal, in workshop. When he was diagnosed as HIV+ in January 1986, he withdrew from the original London production of Chess (although traces of his work remained in the final production).
He sold his home in New York and moved to Tucson, AZ. Michael passed away at his home in Tuscon, AZ on July 2, 1987 (just days after Dreamgirls re-opened on Broadway).