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Obituaries

Tony Tanner, Tony-Nominated Director and Choreographer, Dies at Age 87

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Tanner staged and choreographed five shows on Broadway, including Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Tony Tanner, beloved US and UK actor, director, playwright and choreographer, died on September 8, 2020 at his home in Los Angeles at the age of 87.

As a director, Tanner has staged and choreographed five shows on Broadway, including Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, for which he received Best Director and Best Choreographer Tony Award nominations. His 1981 production of A Taste of Honey starring Amanda Plummer was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Revival in the same season. Tanner has directed a number of Off-Broadway plays as well.

A prolific actor, playwright, director and choreographer, he also wrote most of the original music that was featured in his many plays. He was loved by actors for his ability to take them as a director to new heights.

Audiences were mesmerized by his many characters, particularly his latest, a reincarnation of Sergei Diaghilev in his imagined reflections on life with the Ballets Russe. Tony had a particular talent for reanimating classical plays of the ancients, and deriving themes that were as current as today. His music and lyrics were enchanting and infused his plays with insight and revelation.

After his youth in war-torn England, Tanner immersed himself in all aspects of theatre arts for decades hence. Tanner graduated from the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, being awarded the Douglas Cup. He spent five years in northern repertory companies, playing everything from Saint Peter to the front end of a cow in a British pantomime.

Intimate revues in London's West End brought Tanner some notoriety, including an appearance in a sketch by then-unknown Harold Pinter. Later Tanner played the patsy in The Birthday Party, opposite Pinter himself. Tanner has made numerous appearances in plays and on variety shows on British television, including a stint as Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream, opposite Benny Hill's Bottom. In England, he directed many plays with notable artists including Dame Judi Dench and Sir John Mills. His UK years culminated in the role of Littlechap in Stop the World - I Want to Get Off in London's West End.

That later lead to his starring role in the Warner Brothers movie of the same name. Tanner came to America to assume the lead role in Half a Sixpence on Broadway, and remained in the US. Two more starring roles on Broadway followed, in No Sex Please, We're British (opposite Maureen O'Sullivan) and Sherlock Holmes (guest starring with the Royal Shakespeare Company).

Tanner played Iago to Robert Guillaum's Othello at the National Sylvan Theater. He has appeared with top opera companies in Gilbert and Sullivan operas. He toured the US with Where's Charley, playing the man himself, in a production choreographed by Agnes De Mille. He toured with Lesley Uggams in Cabaret as the emcee and as the redoubtable Cohan in George M. It was during that tour that he met the love of his life, with whom he spent the rest of his days and nights.

In August 2010, Tanner presented his original play CHARLATAN at the Assembly Hall in Edinburgh, gaining rave reviews and wide accolades from critics and audiences. After the Fringe he performed the show at York's Theatre Royal to sold out audiences, and then at The King's Head Pub Theater in London. This tour was a triumphant return to the UK after a 47-year absence. Tanner's prior visit to the Edinburgh Fringe was in 1963 with his own revue Fringe Faces, while also performing with Gillian Lynne's dance show Collages. Both shows were so successful they were brought to the Arts Theatre and the Savoy Theatre in London, respectively.

He is survived by his husband Henry Selvitelle and hundreds of friends, colleagues and admirers.


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