on august 11, 1985, the original broadway production of the musical “dreamgirls” closed after over 1500 performances. the six-time tony award winning musical was such a phenomenon that nearly everyone involved became stars in their own right. one of those people and probably the most unsung, is the late great choreographer, michael peters.
born on august 6, 1948 in williamstown, brooklyn in new york city, michael’s passion for dancing landed him opportunities to dance with great choreographers such as alvin ailey in the 1970’s. a few years later, he would get his first break as a choreographer in 1975 when he was chosen to work with queen of disco, donna summer.
by 1979, michael entered the world of broadway when choreographed his first show, “comin’ uptown,” an all black reimagining of the dicken’s classic, “a christmas carol.” although the show starred gregory hines and loretta devine, the show closed after just six weeks.
in a 1984 interview with people magazine, peters shared that he just sat in my apartment and stared out the window, he said “total depression.” after failure it “comin’ uptown.” however, it caught the attention broadway pulitzer prize winner, michael bennett. the two would team up to dream up the staging for “dreamgirls.”
on december 20, 1981, “dreamgirls” opened on broadway at the omperial theatre. the musical had predominantly black cast and was an instant smash. it would then be nominated for 13 tony awards, winning six, including best choreography.
in 1982, MTV was a new medium and music videos were quickly becoming the driving force behind the potential success of a song. peters was hired to choreograph and/or direct videos for the likes of pat bannetar, lionel richie and michael Jackson.
peters’ work on jackson’s “beat it” and “thriller” not only helped break the color barrier at MTV, but it pioneered the dance music video model that still used today.
later in his career, peters oversaw the choreography for several films including, “what’s love got to do with it,” “sarafina!,” “the five heartbeats,” and “sister act 2.”
throughout his career, michael advocated for choreographers demanding that the art form was respected and honored in all areas of entertainment. he even campaigned for an academy award category for best choreography.
on monday, august 29, 1994, the creative visionary michael peters died of an aids-related illness in los angeles at the age of 46.
today, we speak his name.