Versatile artist of the stage, screen dies

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Edinburgh Theatre Festival

Tony Tanner as Sergei Diaghliev in his one-man show.

The Tony and Drama Desk Award-nominated director and choreographer for the original Broadway production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat has died. Tony Tanner died on Sept. 8 in his Los Angeles home, Deadline reported. He was 88. Tanner’s website, http://www.tonytanner.com/index.html, confirmed the theater artist’s death. A cause of death was not disclosed.

In response to Tanner’s death, the actress Elyse Ashton wrote on Twitter: “How Blessed I was to have #TonyTanner as my director, castmate & friend. Working with Tony taught me more than any acting class. He had so much more he wanted to do. I can’t imagine him resting in peace. More likely he’s waiting for us to begin rehearsals.”

Tanner made his debut on the Great White Way in the 1965 Broadway musical Half a Sixpence at the Broadhurst Theatre. Broadway audiences also saw him in No Sex Please, We’re British in 1973 and as a replacement in the role of Sidney Prince in 1974’s Sherlock Holmes.  Tanner toured in Where’s Charley?, George M., and Cabaret. In the latter, Tanner played the Emcee opposite Leslie Uggams. Cabaret’s flamboyantly ghoulish Emcee is a role which famous actors such as Joel Grey and Alan Cumming have played. Meanwhile, Los Angeles audiences saw Tanner in Captain Brassbound’s Conversion.

He made his Broadway debut as a director and choreographer in the 1976 musical Something’s Afoot. Then, Tanner directed Gorey Stories (1978), and A Taste of Honey (1981). A year later, he directed and choreographed Joseph… The production starred Tony nominees Bill Hutton as the titular character, and the late Laurie Beechman as the Narrator. Tanner lost the direction award to Tommy Tune for Nine. Meanwhile, the choreography honor went to Dreamgirls‘ Michael Bennett and Michael peters. Tanner’s final Broadway credit was directing and choreographing the 1989 musical Prince of Central Park. That show ran for four performances. The New York Times’  Frank Rich, in a famously caustic review, dismissed the production as a “numbing evening” of “guileless amateurism.”

Off-Broadway, Tanner directed Class Enemy, Forty Deuce, and Preppies.

On the screen, audiences saw Tanner in Call It What You Like, Turn-Up for Tony, One Life to Live, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt, as well as Exorcism. In addition, Tanner starred in his solo show, Charlatan. It focuses on the life of legendary ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev.

Tanner was born on July 27, 1932 in Middlesex, England. He studied at London’s Webber-Douglas School before acting for five years in British repertory companies and small London revues. In the U.K., his notable roles included playing Stanley opposite Harold Pinter in The Birthday Party, a psychopath in The Last Ally at the Lyric Hammersmith, as well as Little Chap in Stop the World — I want to Get Off at the Queen’s Theatre. Later, Tanner reprised the role of Little Chap in the 1966 Warner Brothers Film with the same title.

Tanner’s husband, Henry Selvitelle, survives him.

 

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