Bob Avian’s headshot, while dancing in “West Side Story.” (1960, Photo courtesy of Bob Avian.)
The theater world mourns the loss of Bob Avian, who died on January 21 at the age of 83. The cause of death was cardiac arrest, not attributed to COVID-19.
Avian’s career began as a dancer in the Broadway company of West Side Story. He performed in several more shows, including the original company of Funny Girl, but quickly moved to the other side of the curtain, first as an assistant stage manager and then as a choreographer, assisting Michael Bennet on legendary shows including Company and Follies. He is credited with co-choreographing with Bennet, perhaps the greatest dance musical of all time: A Chorus Line. Avian’s last Broadway credit was the Broadway revival of Miss Saigon starring Eva Noblezada.
The Broadway Blog interviewed Avian in the spring of 2020 upon the release of his memoir Dancing Man: A Choreographer’s Journey. “I think one of my gifts is to keep things calm,” said Avian at the time of his experience in the theater industry. “I don’t like to work in a disruptive atmosphere. I like everyone to be in gear and all in the same place.”
Avian revisited A Chorus Line for the 2006 revival as director, a show that he held close to his heart.
“It was such a slow process. We did many workshops, which were an unheard thing at the time,” Avian said of the original 1975 production. “When we finally got to the last workshop, we invited technical people to watch the rough run-throughs. We’d ask them to check it out for different reasons. They got so caught up in the show and started crying. Michael and I looked at each other, and I said, ‘Let’s keep our fingers crossed!’ It started happening more and more.
“Then, word got out on the street, and everyone we’d ever met started asking us if they could come to a rehearsal! We denied those requests, but that’s when we realized that we had something really special. By the fourth workshop, we knew we liked it, but in the first workshop, we didn’t know what we had. We had no opening number, and we had to find the shape of it. We kept working on it for a whole year, and by the end of that year, it had a happy ending.”
Avian was also the lead producer on Dreamgirls, which won six Tony Awards (though Best Musical went to Nine).
Avian is survived by his husband, director/producer Peter Pileski.
Here’s a look at some of our favorite Bob Avian moments: