Musicals Blog

Michael Kidd - Gymnastics as Dance

by Claire J Rottenberg

Although Michael Kidd was probably best known for his choreography of the film musical "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," he had a very successful career as a Broadway choreographer both before and after the film. However, it was the gymnastic character of the dances in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" that influenced future movie choreograpy.

Kidd, born Milton Greenwald, grew up in a non-show business family, and he did not develop an interest in dance until high school. At that time, he began to study modern dance while also pursuing an academic interest in engineering. In 1937, he left college to study dance full-time at the School of American Ballet. Two years later, Kidd appeared on Broadway, dancing in a one-act ballet called "Filling Station." That year, he also performed on Broadway in "The Ballet Caravan."

Kidd appeared on Broadway as a dancer several times until 1947 when he finally got his break as a choreographer for the Broadway musical "Finian's Rainbow." This first effort was an immediate success and earned for Kidd his first of five Tony awards for Best Choreography. From 1948 until 1953, Kidd was the choreographer for five more Broadway musicals and he won two more Tony awards ("Guys and Dolls," 1951 and "Can-Can," 1954).

After his success on Broadway, Kidd was hired as choreographer for his third film, "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers." His first film choreography job was in 1937 for "Another Dawn" but he was not credited for his work on that film. His next film project was "Where's Charley?" in 1952. However, it was his creative work on "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" that made critics and audiences praise Kidd's choreography. Most notable was the long "barn raising" scene that had the male dancers performing gymnastics combined with dancing. The choreography of this film created a new type of dance style that was later seen in the work of other choreographers, such as Jerome Robbins. Although Kidd did not receive an Academy Award for "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," he received an honorary Academy Award in 1996 for his contributions to film choreography.

Kidd returned to Broadway choreography in 1956 and won his fourth Tony award for "L'il Abner." He followed this with a Danny Kaye film, "Merry Andrew," in 1958. A year later, Kidd returned to Broadway and added directing to his choreography career. From 1959 through 1966, Kidd was responsible for the direction and choreography of four Broadway musicals, plus just the choreography of two musicals. During that time, he received three Tony nominations for Best Choreography and one for Best Direction of a Musical. He won his fifth and last Tony award for his work as choreographer on "Destry Rides Again."

In 1969, Kidd returned once again to films, this time to be the choreographer for the movie version of "Hello, Dolly!" Once again, he combined gymnastics with dancing to create exciting and unusual dance numbers for a film musical. "Hello, Dolly!" was, however, Kidd's last film.

Kidd went back to Broadway in 1970 to direct and create the choreography for "The Rothschilds." Three years later, Kidd worked for the last time as choreographer on an original Broadway musical, "Cyrano." After "Cyrano," Kidd was directly involved with only two more Broadway musicals - in 1980, he was director and choreographer for a revival of "The Music Man" and in 1993, he directed the musical version of "The Goodbye Girl." Kidd died in 2007, at the age of 92.