Michael Bennett leaves musical. By Nan Robertson

Michael Bennett, one of the Broadway’s most successful directors and choreographers, has withdrawn as director of an expensive new musical, Chess, reportedly because of an attack of angina.

Bernard B. Jacobs, president of the Shubert Organization, producers of the show, said a successor to the 42-year-old Mr Bennett would be named shortly. Chess, a love story set against Soviet and American intrigue during a world chess championship, has been cast and is due to go into rehearsal early next month in London. It was choreographed by Mr Bennett, an eight-time Tony winner who also won the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for drama for A Chorus Line, the longest-running Broadway production ever, which he conceived, choreographed and directed.

Mr Jacobs quoted Mr Bennett’s doctor as saying that an attack of angina pectoris – severe chest pains resulting from an insufficiency of oxygenated blood to the heart – had led to continued palpitations and loss of breath.

“Michael is going to help out on the show, depending on his health,” Mr Jacobs said. “At times he’s better, at times worse.”

Mr Jacobs indicated yesterday that Mr Bennett at one point might not have been “fully satisfied” with Mr Rice’s book and lyrics and “wanted a lot more written.” As of now, the Shubert president added, there are a “couple of scenes” and lyrics for several songs still needed. But he said that, “If anybody thinks that Michael has doubts about the show, that’s a lot of nonsense.”

Mr Rice is credited for the “conception” and lyrics of Chess. The rock musicians Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, songwriters for the Swedish pop group ABBA, wrote the score.

Mr Jacobs is to fly to London today for discussions and said he expected to be back in New York on Monday with “a better idea” about who will stage the show.

Attempts to reach Mr Bennett by telephone were unsuccessful.

Set for Broadway in 1987

Chess is due to open in London in May. It is scheduled to arrive on Broadway in the first half of 1987.

An RCA recording of Chess had sold more than a million copies by last fall, and two of its songs – One Night In Bangkok and I Know Him So Well – soared to the top of pop charts in Britain, the United States and other countries last year.

There was a precedent for song preceding show in the case of the Broadway hit musical Evita, on which Mr Rice collaborated with the composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. The song Don’t Cry For Me Argentina was a success before the show was written.

Mr Bennett’s last Broadway musical was the hit Dreamgirls, which won six Tony Awards in 1982. Transcribed for ABBA World

The New York Times · Thursday, 23 January 1986 (Page C22)


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