Gillian Lynne, who partnered with composer Andrew Lloyd Webber to choreograph “Cats” and “Phantom of the Opera,” died July 1 at a hospital in London. She was 92.
The cause was pneumonia, said her husband, actor Peter Land.
Ms. Lynne was best known for her two blockbusters with Lloyd Webber, productions that have collectively grossed several billion dollars worldwide and succeeded each other as the longest-running shows on Broadway.
“Quite simply, Gillian Lynne was a seminal figure in choreography for three generations, possibly four as her groundbreaking work in ‘Cats’ is still being seen around the world,” Lloyd Webber said in a statement.
Before “Cats” premiered at the New London Theatre in 1981, he continued, “The idea of a British musical with dance at its heart was unthinkable. It is no exaggeration that ‘Cats’ opened with the only cast available who could have played their roles. It was Gillie’s depth of contacts from her ballet roots to her work in contemporary dance that made it possible to open ‘Cats’ in Britain and prove the naysayers wrong.”
Ms. Lynn aimed to endow the the show’s feline characters with personalized paw movements, leaps and hip thrusts. She was inspired in part by her own cat, Scarlett.
“Cats” ran for 7,485 performances before closing in 2000 and ceding its longevity record to “Phantom.” A revival was mounted on Broadway in 2016, with “Hamilton” choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler replacing Ms. Lynne.
“Phantom,” a gothic romance based on a novel by Gaston Leroux, opened in London in 1986 and on Broadway two years later. It has continued to run ever since, with Ms. Lynne periodically checking in with the cast to assess their performance.
In her 70s and beyond, she was known to walk onstage and demonstrate dance steps. “You may be a tiny bit out of line in a chorus,” one actor told the Independent in 1999, amid rehearsals for a Lynne-directed pantomime in London, “and you think you’ve got away with it, but, oh no, Gillian will take you to one side afterward and say, ‘Darling, you need me to sort you out, don’t you?’”
Gillian Barbara Pyrke was born in Bromley, a suburb of London, on Feb. 20, 1926. Her father ran a general store, and her mother was a homemaker and talented performer whose father had forbidden her from singing or dancing. She died in a car accident when Ms. Lynne was 13.
In her 2011 memoir, “A Dancer in Wartime,” Ms. Lynne wrote that she dedicated her career to her mother. She said she experienced a spiritual vision during an early performance with the Sadler’s Wells Ballet Company (now the Royal Ballet), before an audience that included the royal family.
“There was my mother above and all around me,” Ms. Lynne wrote, “willing me to dance with all my soul. . . . We were alone, entering the world she had always wanted for me, and I offered up my dance to her.”
Ms. Lynne often noted that her dance career was something of an accident, the result of a chance suggestion from a medical specialist. Hyperactive as a child, she was known as “Wriggle Bottom” at school and taken to a doctor who sat patiently while Ms. Lynne’s mother explained that young Gillie — noticeably squirming — couldn’t sit still.
On a hunch, the specialist turned on a radio and left the room with Ms. Lynne’s mother, where they watched as the young girl jumped on a desk and danced across the room.
Ms. Lynne began performing with a group called Ballet Guild, where the director gave her the name Lynne after “Pyrke” was continually misspelled, Land said, and joined Sadler’s Wells on her 18th birthday.
Ms. Lynne became one of the finest choreographers in Britain. She danced the cancan at the London Coliseum, staged productions for the Royal Shakespeare Company and Royal Opera, and helped popularize a modern, jazz-based dance style in the theaters of London’s West End.
By Ms. Lynne’s count, she directed more than 60 productions on Broadway or the West End.
Ms. Lynne received two Olivier Awards, the highest honor in London theater, and was named a commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1997 and a dame commander in 2014.
Days before her death, the New London Theatre was renamed the Gillian Lynne Theatre in her honor, marking the first time a West End theater was named for a nonroyal woman. The dedication ceremony featured a dance number from “Cats,” during which Ms. Lynne was carried onstage aboard a feather-adorned sedan chair.