It's important to know about the artists who paved the way for us—especially in the musical theater world, which has been driven from the beginning by charismatic dancers and choreographers whose work continues to inspire Broadway babies. If you're a Great White Way fan, you should get to know these legendary artists, some of whom are still making moves.
1. Jack Cole
Jack Cole is number one on this list for a reason: He's known as the father of theatrical jazz dance. His style was heavily influenced by movements from East India, Africa, and the Caribbean, but he also incorporated everything from ballet technique to the Lindy hop. "In theatre," he said, "you want to see real people doing real things." Cole's probably best known for Marilyn Monroe's "Diamond's Are a Girl's Best Friend" number from the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, but he also has numerous Broadway credits to his name, including A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Kismet, and Man of La Mancha.
2. Agnes de Mille
Agnes de Mille started out in the ballet world, choreographing for American Ballet Theatre and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. But she won the hearts of musical theater lovers when she created dances for Oklahoma! on Broadway in 1943, including the famous "dream ballet." She went on to choreograph more than a dozen other musicals, including Carousel and Brigadoon.
3. Michael Kidd
You've probably seen Michael Kidd's athletic dance numbers for the films Seven Brides For Seven Brothers and The Band Wagon. Kidd first made a name for himself on Broadway, though, becoming the first choreographer to win five Tony Awards. Over the course of his 50-year career, he came to be known for the "integral musical", in which dance movements are essential to the plot.
4. Gwen Verdon
Gwen Verdon started as an assistant to Jack Cole and a dancer in the chorus line of Broadway plays. A uniquely gifted artist, she went on to become a muse to Bob Fosse. The two eventually married, and collaborated on several projects, including Sweet Charity and Chicago. In 1981, she was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame, and in 1998, she was awarded the National Medal of the Arts.
5. Bob Fosse
We hope you know who Bob Fosse is! At a young age, Fosse performed in vaudeville and burlesque nightclubs, a sleazy, darkly humorous scene that would have a big influence on his choreography. He earned small dance parts on Broadway and in variety shows, and in 1954 choreographed his first big musical, The Pajama Game, which earned him a Tony Award—the first of eight. His absurdly impressive list of credits includes the musicals Sweet Charity, Damn Yankees, and Pippin, as well as the films All That Jazz and Cabaret.
6. Jerome Robbins
Another name we hope is very familiar! Jerome Robbins is known for his iconic work as a choreographer and director in On The Town, West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, andThe King and I, to name just a few. He also choreographed more than 60 ballets, bringing the playful spirit of musical theater to works such as The Concert and N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz. (Both remain staples in the ballet world.) Among the countless awards he's received are four Tony Awards and two Academy Awards.
7. Susan Stroman
Fun fact: Susan Stroman toured in the original production of Chicago! Later she shifted career paths, winning her first Tony Award for Best Choreography for Crazy For You in 1992. She also became an accomplished director, beginning in 2000, when she helmed both the groundbreaking Contact and a revival of The Music Man. Since then, she's directed and/or choreographed 14 shows on- and off-Broadway. Stroman is also the first woman to choreograph a full-length ballet, Double Feature, for New York City Ballet.
8. Kathleen Marshall
Director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall definitely has a show "type": Her Tonys for the revivals of The Pajama Game, Anything Goes, and Wonderful Town prove she's got an eye for classic American musical comedies. In an interview with the Washington Post, she says, "I love theater that challenges and provokes, but I also think there's a place in the world for theater that entertains and transports." (Her brother, Rob Marshall—director/choreographer of the film version of Chicago, among many other things—is no slouch, either.)
9. Sutton Foster
You may know Sutton Foster from ABC Family's "Bunheads," but she started out onstage, not onscreen. Originally the understudy for the lead in the 2002 Broadway revival of Thoroughly Modern Millie, Foster ended up not only taking over the role, but also winning a Tony for it. She later won a second Tony for playing Reno Sweeney in 2011's Anything Goes revival, where she showed off her impressive tap skills. Foster is currently exploring her acting career as Liza Miller in TVLand's Younger.
10. Jerry Mitchell
Jerry Mitchell is known for his upbeat, high-energy choreography. I mean, just look at this list of shows: His first major production as a director/choreographer was 2007's Legally Blonde: The Musical; in 2013, he won a Tony for Best Choreography for Kinky Boots; and most recently, he directed On Your Feet!
11. Casey Nicholaw
Casey Nicholaw started out as a dancer in the choruses of Crazy For You, Steel Pier, and Thoroughly Modern Millie. But since choreographing Spamalot in 2005, he hasn't looked back. Just last year, the director/choreographer had four shows running on Broadway simultaneously: Tuck Everlasting, The Book of Mormon, Aladdin, and Something Rotten!