Choreographer, producer, and director Bob Avian, who won Tony Awards for Best Choreography for A Chorus Line and Ballroom—both co-choreographed with the late Michael Bennett—passed away January 21 at Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, from cardiac arrest. He was 83.
Born December 26, 1937, in New York City, Robert Avian received a BA from Boston University College of Fine Arts. Also a student at Boston Ballet, Mr. Avian began his career as a dancer, appearing in the original Broadway production of West Side Story, which marked his Main Stem debut. He was also seen in Nowhere to Go But Up, Funny Girl, Cafe Crown, and Henry, Sweet Henry.
He was the assistant stage manager for the 1966 musical I Do! I Do!—co-starring Mary Martin and Robert Preston—and in 1968 he co-choreographed the Tony-nominated Burt Bacharach musical Promises, Promises, which began his association with the late, Tony-winning director and choreographer Michael Bennett.
For the next two decades, Mr. Avian was an integral part of every Bennett production, including Coco, Company, Follies, Twigs, Seesaw, and God’s Favorite. In 1976 he won his first Tony Award for co-choreographer (with Bennett) of the ground-breaking, Pulitzer Prize-winning A Chorus Line. His second Tony Award for Best Choreography (also with Bennett) came in 1979 for the short-lived musical Ballroom, for which he also served as producer.
Mr. Avian was also a lead producer for the 1981 Tony-nominated musical Dreamgirls, directed and choreographed by Bennett, as well as the subsequent national touring companies. He was the production supervisor for the musical’s 1987 Broadway revival.
For producer Cameron Mackintosh, Mr. Avian choreographed the London premiere of Follies as well as the London and Broadway productions of Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil's Tony-nominated Miss Saigon. He received a 1991 Tony nomination for Best Choreography for his work on the latter. In a statement Mackintosh said Avian "was also a brilliant producer, instinctively perceptive, and collaborative and shrewdly honest in his opinions but always kind… He facilitated the genius of Michael Bennett, and with every little step he took taught me more about the art of staging a modern musical than virtually anyone else I’ve met."
Mr. Avian also received a 1995 Best Choreography Tony nomination for his musical staging of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard, which had premiered in London. He received an Olivier Award for another Boublil and Schönberg musical, the London premiere of Martin Guerre, and also choreographed the West End debut of The Witches of Eastwick. Off-Broadway he choreographed the Stephen Sondheim revue Putting It Together, starring Julie Andrews, for Manhattan Theatre Club, and the 1999 Broadway production of the show, starring Carol Burnett.
In 2006 Mr. Avian directed the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line and was seen in the documentary Every Little Step, which chronicled the casting for that production. In 2013 he helmed a London revival of A Chorus Line at the Palladium, followed by productions at the Hollywood Bowl and New York City Center in 2018. His final Broadway credit was the 2017 revival of Miss Saigon, for which he provided choreography and musical staging.
Mr. Avian's memoir, Dancing Man: A Broadway Choreographer’s Journey, co-written with Tom Santopietro, was published by University Press of Mississippi in 2020.
Mr. Avian is survived by husband Peter Pileski, sister Laura Nabedian, five nieces and nephews, a great nephew, and a great niece.