Baayork Lee (born December 5, 1946) is an American actress, singer, dancer, choreographer, theatre director, and author.

Baayork Lee
Baayork Lee 2014 Photo by Lia Chang (cropped).jpg
Lee in 2014
Born (1946-12-05) December 5, 1946 (age 75)
New York City
OccupationActress, singer, dancer, choreographer, theatre director, author
Years active1951–present
Awards2003 Lifetime Achievement Asian Woman Warrior Award, 2014 Paul Robeson Citation Award

Early life and careerEdit

Lee was born in New York City's Chinatown, to an Indian mother and Chinese father. She started dancing at an early age, and she made her Broadway debut at the age of five as Princess Ying Yawolak in the original production of The King and I in 1951. Yul Brynner, the original king, was like a second father to her. After she outgrew the show, she first collected unemployment at age eight. With further dance study in ballet, modern, and afro-Cuban, she appeared in George Balanchine's original production of The Nutcracker, where she met another idol, ballerina Maria Tallchief, whom she hoped to emulate.[1]

While attending the High School for Performing Arts, she met fellow student Michael Bennett. Around the same time, she appeared in Flower Drum Song, in which she was taught to walk in high heels. When reaching her full height of four feet, ten inches (147 cm), her dreams of becoming a ballerina were dashed because she was deemed too short. Though she was offered a scholarship to Juilliard, Lee instead chose to further her career. Her Broadway appearances included Mr. President, Golden Boy, and Here's Love. Her next three shows were all choreographed by her old friend, Michael Bennett: A Joyful Noise, Henry, Sweet Henry, and Promises, Promises. In the last one, she performed the famous dance number "Turkey Lurkey Time" (with Donna McKechnie and Margo Sappington). Lee was dance captain for Promises, Promises, and recreated the choreography for subsequent touring productions, starting her future path as choreographer.

In 1973, she travelled to Israel to film Norman Jewison's version of Jesus Christ Superstar.

A Chorus Line and Michael BennettEdit

In 1973, she appeared in Bennett's Seesaw and was featured opposite Tommy Tune. Again assisting with the choreography, if Bob Avian was Bennett's right hand, Lee had become his left.

In 1975, Lee was invited by Michael Bennett to participate in the workshops from which A Chorus Line was developed. The character of Connie Wong was, in large part, based upon her life. Her bubbly and vibrant energy[2] and "dynamo" personality were reflected in her brief solo, although Lee reports her mother disliked her daughter's singing. Lee laughingly blamed the notes written for her to sing. (Her "Four foot, ten" solo, long missing from the album, was finally heard on a re-release in the late 1990s). Along with the cast, she won the 1976 Theatre World Award for Ensemble Performance for the show. Over the years she has directed or choreographed more than thirty-five international productions of the musical, including the most recent Broadway revival in 2006. Fifteen years later, along with cast member Thommie Walsh and Robert Viagas, she documented the evolution of A Chorus Line in the book On the Line: the Creation of A Chorus Line, published in 1990. The 2008 feature documentary Every Little Step chronicles the casting process for the 2006 Broadway revival of A Chorus Line, which Lee choreographed. The film also tells the saga of the original production, using old film clips, excerpts from the original sessions Bennett taped with chorus kids, and revealing interviews with original collaborators and performers, including Lee herself.

Lee became one of Bennett's closest collaborators, and she helped to develop the choreography in many of his shows.

Choreography and directing careerEdit

Starting in the 1970s, Lee stepped out on her own, choreographing Where's Charley? in New Jersey. Since then, she has directed national and international tours of The King & I, Bombay Dreams, Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, Barnum, Porgy and Bess, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Carmen Jones. She was Associate Choreographer for Tommy Tune. She also has choreographed several productions for the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center. She also choreographed the ill-fated Marilyn: An American Fable, after Kenny Ortega was fired during rehearsals. Other projects include becoming a talent scout for Tokyo Disneyland, opening a musical theater school in Seoul, South Korea, and producing. In 2018, she choreographed New York City Center's Gala production of A Chorus Line.[3] She directed and choreographed Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific for City Springs Theatre Company (Sandy Springs, Georgia) in 2019.[4]

AwardsEdit

Columbia College Chicago honored Lee during their 2003 Women Warrior Festival, a weeklong event, with music and dance performances, lectures, discussions, workshops and films, presented by the College's Center for Asian Arts and Media. Lee gave a keynote address and was a 2003 Woman Warrior Honoree.[5]

The Actors’ Equity Foundation gave her the Paul Robeson Citation Award in 2014.[6]

In 2017, Lee received the Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award, which honors members of the theater industry for their significant contributions to charitable causes. She was honored for her longstanding commitment to future generations of artists through her work with the National Asian Artists Project (NAAP) and theatre education programs around the world. Lee is a co-founder of NAAP, a non-profit that showcases the work of Asian-American theatre artists through performance, outreach, and educational programming.[7][8][9]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Revivals: Cinderella Story: The New Yorker
  2. ^ Baayork Lee, Q&A Interview: Broadway.com Buzz
  3. ^ McPhee, Ryan. "Tony Yazbeck, Melanie Moore, Jay Armstrong Johnson, More to Star in 'A Chorus Line' at New York City Center" Playbill, October 18, 2018
  4. ^ "South Pacific delights with spectacle at City Springs". ARTS ATL. March 12, 2019. Retrieved June 14, 2020.
  5. ^ "Columbia College Chicago : Asian and Asian American Women in Spotlight as Columbia College Celebrates Women Warriors". Archived from the original on June 2, 2008. Retrieved September 3, 2007.
  6. ^ Gans, Andrew. "Original A Chorus Line Star Is Recipient of 2014 Paul Robeson Citation Award" Playbill, October 7, 2014
  7. ^ "Baayork Lee to Receive 2017 Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award". TonyAwards.com. Retrieved May 7, 2017.
  8. ^ "Original A Chorus Line Star Baayork Lee to Receive 2017 Isabelle Stevenson Award". Broadway.com. Retrieved May 7, 2017.
  9. ^ "Baayork Lee Named Recipient of 2017 Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award | Playbill". Playbill. Retrieved May 7, 2017.

NotesEdit

  • Flinn, Denny Martin, What They Did for Love: The Untold Story Behind the Making of A Chorus Line, Bantam, 1989, ISBN 0-553-34593-1
  • Viagas, Robert, Baayork Lee, Thommie Walsh, On the Line: the Creation of A Chorus Line, Morrow, 1990, ISBN 0-688-08429-X

External linksEdit