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Rocky Horror’s Michael White dies

Published 9 March 2016

Michael White, one of the theatre industry’s most influential producers, has passed away at the age of 80. London’s Theatreland will tonight dim its lights in commemoration of his incredible career.

According to the BBC, his former girlfriend Lyndall Hobbs confirmed the man behind hits including Annie, A Chorus Line and The Rocky Horror Show died of heart failure in California.

The recipient of 2014’s Special Award at the Olivier Awards with MasterCard, White produced more than 100 shows in an incredible career that spanned more than 50 years.

Born in Scotland, and educated in Switzerland and Paris, White produced his first West End production, Jack Gelber’s play within a play The Connection, in 1961, aged just 26. In the years that followed his shows, which often latched onto the zeitgeist, made history.

In 1970, with Robert Stigwood and Hillard Elkins, he brought Kenneth Tynan’s revue Oh! Calcutta! to the London stage. The production courted controversy with its sex-related sketches and unabashed full frontal nudity, but his hunch about its success was proved right. Oh! Calcutta! ran for more than 3,900 performances.

Three years later he presided over the West End premiere of Richard O’Brien’s pop Gothic cult hit The Rocky Horror Show. He also brought an early version of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat to the stage.

In 1976, he broke new ground again, giving the Broadway hit about musical theatre performers, A Chorus Line, its UK debut. Not content with just staging the musical, the production also marked another of White’s famous initiatives, with the producer essentially inventing the big, glamorous opening night party with this West End debut, recognising that just as much show-promoting press could be generated by having the right people connected with the production as from reviews.

Away from the headline productions, White produced important and testing shows, from Joe Orton’s Loot, Entertaining Mr Sloane and What The Butler Saw to Athol Fugard’s The Island and Sizwe Banzi Is Dead, as well as films including Monty Python And The Holy Grail and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

White’s incredible life in theatre saw him win Tony Awards (Sleuth, Two Gentlemen Of Verona, A Chorus Line), Evening Standard Theatre Awards (The Rocky Horror Show, A Chorus Line, Annie) and Olivier Awards for A Chorus Line, She Loves Me and his esteemed Special Award.

Before this evening’s performances commence, theatres across the West End will dim their lights for two minutes from 19:00, a grand tradition performed to honour theatre’s most prestigious contributors.

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