Tony-nominated choreographer and dancer Sammy Dallas Bayes passed away May 12. He was 82.
Born July 9, 1939, in Wasco, California, Mr. Bayes was the son of Sam Tony Bayes and Zana Marie Frost Bayes. Raised in Pueblo, Colorado, he attended Centennial High School where he was part of his first ever musical, playing Tommy Albright in Brigadoon.
Time at Perry Mansfield Theatre Camp in Steamboat Springs, Colorado drew Mr. Bayes toward dancing, and he received a two year dance scholarship from Stephens College. He arrived in New York City in 1963, where he began an extended working relationship and mentorship with Jerome Robbins. Mr. Robbins cast Mr. Bayes in the original production of Fiddler on the Roof, where he initially played Yitzuk, later also playing The Fiddler, alongside his responsibilities as dance captain.
In 1966, Mr. Robbins sent Mr. Bayes to open a touring company of Fiddler in Japan. Mr. Bayes then became the go-to overseer for international productions of Fiddler, including London’s West End; Melbourne and Sydney, Australia; numerous national tours; and a 1990 Tony-winning Broadway Revival. Mr. Bayes was also was the associate choreographer for the film adaptation, and appears in it as a Russian dancer.
In 1989, Mr. Bayes assisted Mr. Robbins on his final Broadway show Jerome Robbins Broadway, which was a retrospective of Robbins’ body of work in the musical theatre. Additionally, Mr. Bayes completed a reference book, at Mr. Robbins’ request, that contains every step of the original Fiddler choreography. This book continues to be sent out by licensor Music Theatre International with every production, whether it’s being performed by a professional company, community theatre, or school.
Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying composer Frank Loesser turned to Mr. Bayes in 1968 to choreograph his Canterbury Tales, which earned Mr. Bayes a Tony Award nomination. As a choreographer, he worked on Heathen! in 1972, did musical staging for Shelter in 1973 and Rainbow Jones in 1974, as worked on numerous other national and international productions.
Mr. Bayes choreographed the 1973 film of Godspell, and was the choreographer for several television commercials, including the infamous “Who Wears Short Shorts” ad for Nair. Mr. Bayes worked on the television show Reading Rainbow with LeVar Burton on an episode about teamwork, which is used as an example in schools every October for Fire Prevention Month. Other productions include the one-act play One Man’s War that Mr. Bayes wrote and directed about the experiences of his best friend growing up in 1960s street gangs and his subsequent deployment as one of the first Marines to see combat in the Vietnam War.
Since the 1990s, Mr. Bayes brought his experience to the Orpheus Theatre in Oneonta, New York and the Leatherstocking Theatre Company in Milford, New York, where he directed many productions including West Side Story, Oliver!, Chicago, Funny Girl, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Footloose, I Hate Hamlet, Lend Me a Tenor, and more.
Sammy is survived by his wife of 31 years, Barbara Bayes; their two daughters, Alexa and Taylor; a brother, Clifford Roberson, Jr.; and numerous cousins, nieces, nephews, and friends. He was preceded in death by his father, Sam Tony Bayes, his mother, Zana Marie (Frost) Bayes Roberson, his stepfather, Clifford Roberson, and his sister, Patricia Dawn (Roberson) Ricks.
For those who wish to honor Mr. Bayes, his family would appreciate memorial donations to the Entertainment Community Fund (formerly the Actor’s Fund), which provides support to those in need in the entertainment industry. Visit EntertainmentCommunity.org.