b. Jerome Rabinowitz, 11 October 1918, New York City, New York, USA, d. 29 July 1998, New York City, New York, USA. An important director, choreographer and dancer, Robbins began his career with the celebrated Ballet Theatre in New York, and subsequently appeared as a dancer on Broadway in shows such as Great Lady, The Straw Hat Revue and Stars In Your Eyes. In 1944, he and composer Leonard Bernstein conceived a short ballet, Fancy Free, which, with the participation of Betty Comden and Adolph Green, evolved into the musical On The Town. During the 40s and early 50s he was constantly acclaimed for his stylish and original choreography for shows such as Billion Dollar Baby (1945), High Button Shoes (1947, Tony Award), Look Ma, I’m Dancing (1948), Miss Liberty (1949), Call Me Madam (1950), The King And I (1951) and Two’s Company (1952). From then on, he also served as the director on series of notable productions: The Pajama Game (1954), Peter Pan (1954), Bells Are Ringing (1956), West Side Story (1957; Tony Award), Gypsy (1959), A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (1962), Funny Girl (1964) and Fiddler On The Roof (1964). For the last-named show, one of his greatest achievements, he won Tony Awards as choreographer and director. He and Robert Wise were also awarded Oscars when they co-directed the film version of West Side Story in 1961.
After working on the London productions of Funny Girl and Fiddler On The Roof in 1966 and 1967, Robbins turned away from the Broadway musical theatre and announced that he was devoting his life to ballet. He had worked with the New York City Ballet since 1948 as dancer, choreographer and associate artistic director, and in 1958 briefly formed his own chamber-sized company Ballets: USA. He returned to the popular field in February 1989 to direct a celebratory revue of his work entitled Jerome Robbins’ Broadway. In a season that was so bereft of original musicals that Kenny Loggins On Broadway and Barry Manilow At The Gershwin were categorized as such, this reminder of Broadway’s glory days was greeted with relief and rejoicing (and six Tony Awards). It featured extended sequences from West Side Story and Fiddler On The Roof, along with other delights such as the gloriously incongruous ‘You Gotta Have A Gimmick’ from Gypsy, and the famous Keystone Cops chase from High Button Shoes, all sandwiched between excerpts from Robbins’ first hit, On The Town, which opened and closed the show. An enormously expensive investment at $8 million, the show reportedly lost around half of that, even though it ran for 538 performances. Robbins continued to work on ballets until his death in July 1998.