Onna White

Choreographer, Director, Performer

Female

Born: March 24, 1922
Inverness, Nova Scotia

Died: April 8, 2005

Onna White, who found a quarter century of work in the male-dominated world of Broadway choreography, died April 8, 2005, of natural causes, according to her daughter Jeanne Douglas. She was 83. Ms. White collected eight Tony Award nominations over her long career, the first for her choreography of the classic musical The Music Man in 1958, with its memorably humorous "Marian the Librian" number, and the last for 1977’s I Love My Wife, one of her final assignments. In between came Whoop-Up, Take Me Along, Irma La Douce, Half a Sixpence, Mame and Ilya Darling. In fact, she was recognized by the Tony people roughly two out of three times she graced a Broadway program’s title page. However, she never won the award.

Obituary: Other credits include the original productions of Carmen Jones, Gigi, 1776, I Had a Ball, Let It Ride, Gantry, 70 Girls 70, Goodtime Charley and Working.

A classically trained ballerina, she began her Broadway career as a performer, dancing in the original staging of Finian’s Rainbow, which was choreographed by Michael Kidd. Other chorus work included Silk Stocking and Guys and Dolls, on which she assisted Kidd.

Her relationship with Kidd would be the most important one of her career. Kidd took the young White under his wing early on, hiring her as his assistant on the London debut of Finian's Rainbow. He used her in the same capacity for the London premiere of Guys and Dolls. Then, in 1955, she was chosen to recreate Kidd's work in a Broadway revival of Finian.

Her work was preserved in the film versions of The Music Man, Mame and 1776. She was also used on the movies of Bye Bye Birdie, Oliver! and the half-animated film Pete’s Dragon. She won an Oscar for her work on Oliver!, which boasted a host of memorable dance sequences, including "Food Glorious Food," in which dozens of children danced about an orphanage. It was a rare honor, as Oscars are not typically given out for choreographic work.

Ms. White married Larry Douglas in 1948. They divorced in 1959.

She was born March 24, 1922, in Inverness, Nova Scotia. She was a sickly child, and, according to Ms. White, some health-inducing exercises a doctor prescribed for her led her by chance to the basic movements of dancing. She started taking dance lessons at the age of 12 and later studied in San Francisco. Her daughter said she would be cremated and her ashes taken to Powell River, British Columbia.

Looking back on her career, she said, "I realized I had a lot of nerve. I had stride. I had guts. If you really want to be a choreographer, get down to business. Give it all you’ve got. You’ve got to prove yourself honey; and if you do it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman."

 

Roles

Playbill Cover - Mame Mame
Jul. 24, 1983 - Aug. 28, 1983
Original Choreography
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - The American Dance Machine The American Dance Machine
Jun. 14, 1978 - Dec. 3, 1978
Featuring choreography from Half a Sixpence
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Working Working
May 14, 1978 - Jun. 4, 1978
Dances and Musical Staging
(Original)
Who's Who
Playbill Cover - I Love My Wife I Love My Wife
Apr. 17, 1977 - May 20, 1979
Musical Staging
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Goodtime Charley Goodtime Charley
Mar. 3, 1975 - May 31, 1975
Choreographer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Gigi Gigi
Nov. 13, 1973 - Feb. 19, 1974
Choreographer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - 70, Girls, 70 70, Girls, 70
Apr. 15, 1971 - May 15, 1971
Choreographer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Gantry Gantry
Feb. 14, 1970 - Feb. 14, 1970
Director
(Original)
 
    Choreographer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - 1776 1776
Mar. 16, 1969 - Feb. 13, 1972
Musical Staging
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Illya Darling Illya Darling
Apr. 11, 1967 - Jan. 13, 1968
Choreographer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Mame Mame
May 24, 1966 - Jan. 3, 1970
Choreographer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Half a Sixpence Half a Sixpence
Apr. 25, 1965 - Jul. 16, 1966
Choreographer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - I Had a Ball I Had a Ball
Dec. 15, 1964 - Jun. 12, 1965
Choreographer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Let It Ride Let It Ride
Oct. 12, 1961 - Dec. 9, 1961
Choreographer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Irma La Douce Irma La Douce
Sep. 29, 1960 - Dec. 31, 1961
Choreographer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Take Me Along Take Me Along
Oct. 22, 1959 - Dec. 17, 1960
Choreographer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Whoop-Up Whoop-Up
Dec. 22, 1958 - Feb. 7, 1959
Choreographer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - The Music Man The Music Man
Dec. 19, 1957 - Apr. 15, 1961
Choreographer
(Original)
 
Finian's Rainbow
May 18, 1955 - May 29, 1955
Choreographer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Guys and Dolls Guys and Dolls
Apr. 20, 1955 - May 31, 1955
Choreography
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Silk Stockings Silk Stockings
Feb. 24, 1955 - Apr. 14, 1956
Dancer Performer
(Original)
 
Guys and Dolls
Nov. 24, 1950 - Nov. 28, 1953
Dancer Performer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Arms and the Girl Arms and the Girl
Feb. 2, 1950 - May 27, 1950
Dancer Performer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Regina Regina
Oct. 31, 1949 - Dec. 16, 1949
Dancer Performer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - All for Love All for Love
Jan. 22, 1949 - May 7, 1949
Dancing Ensemble Performer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Hold It! Hold It!
May 5, 1948 - Jun. 12, 1948
Dancer Performer
(Original)
 
    Dance Captain
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Finian's Rainbow Finian's Rainbow
Jan. 10, 1947 - Oct. 2, 1948
Dancer Performer
(Replacement)
 
 

Inside the Playbill (1)

See more Who's Who

Awards


Tony Award

Year Category Production Winner/Nominee
1977 Choreography I Love My Wife Nominee
1968 Choreography Illya Darling Nominee
1966 Choreography Mame Nominee
1965 Choreography Half a Sixpence Nominee
1961 Choreography Irma La Douce Nominee
1960 Choreography Take Me Along Nominee
1959 Choreography Whoop-Up Nominee
1958 Choreography The Music Man Nominee
 
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