Billy Wilson, the director and choreographer of "Bubbling Brown Sugar" and other Broadway musicals, died on August 14, 1994, at St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan. He was 59 and lived in Teaneck, N.J.
The cause was AIDS, said his daughter, Alexis Wilson.
Mr. Wilson was known as an experienced and dependable director who injected extra life and energy into his productions, adding small, telling details and encouraging performers to be more expressive than they believed they were. In a 1976 interview in The New York Times, he described the process of turning "Guys and Dolls" into a black musical as something "like taking chicken soup and making it a little more gumbo." A Range in Theme and Tone
He also choreographed dances, performed by major companies in New York, Philadelphia and the Netherlands, that ranged in theme and tone, from "Rosa," a simple, powerful dramatic piece about Rosa Parks, created for Philadanco, to the effervescent Gershwin "Concerto in F," which is in the repertories of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Dance Theater of Harlem.
Mr. Wilson worked extensively with the three dance companies, but was able to switch easily from the modern-dance stage to Broadway and back again.
He was born in Philadelphia, and was trained in dance there. He made his New York debut at 19 in the City Center production of "Carmen Jones" and went on to dance on Broadway in "Bells are Ringing" and "Jamaica." He left America to perform in the London production of "West Side Story" and remained in Europe for 10 years. From 1961 to 1965, he danced with the Dutch National Ballet, where he starred in "Othello," a ballet created for him by Serge Lifar.
On his return to the United States, Mr. Wilson taught dance at Brandeis University, the National Center for Afro-American Arts in Boston and Harvard University, where he directed several Hasty Pudding shows. He also worked with his own company, Dance Theater of Boston, in the 1980's.
On Broadway, Mr. Wilson choreographed and staged shows that included "Eubie," for which he shared credit with Henry Le Tang, "Merlin," a production of "Stop the World, I Want to Get Off," with Sammy Davis Jr., and Alan J. Lerner's last Broadway show, "Dance a Little Closer," along with the 1976 hit "Bubbling Brown Sugar."
He was nominated for three Tony Awards, and he directed and choreographed the all-black production of "Guys and Dolls" in 1976 and choreographed the Emmy Award-winning television show "Zoom."
In the 1980's, he taught dance for five years as the head of the dance department at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh before returning to Europe, where he directed and choreographed musicals and staged ballets in the Netherlands.
Mr. Wilson's marriage to Sonia van Beers, a dancer, ended in divorce.
In addition to his daughter, of Manhattan, he is survived by a son, Parker, of Teaneck; a granddaughter, Diamond Daradaya of Manhattan; a brother, Calvin T. Wilson, and a sister, Thelma Wilson Brooker, both of Philadelphia.
Of all the many accomplishments, Billy Wilson was most proud of his inclusion into the 1978 edition of Who’s Who Among Black Americans and his two children Alexis and Parker.
Performance in America: Contemporary U.S. Culture and the Performing Arts by David Román
Paperback: 376 pages
Publisher: Duke University Press Books (November 23, 2005)
Amazon: Performance in America: Contemporary U.S. Culture and the Performing Arts
Performance in America demonstrates the vital importance of the performing arts to contemporary U.S. culture. Looking at a series of specific performances mounted between 1994 and 2004, well-known performance studies scholar David Román challenges the belief that theatre, dance, and live music are marginal art forms in the United States. He describes the crucial role that the performing arts play in local, regional, and national communities, emphasizing the power of live performance, particularly its immediacy and capacity to create a dialogue between artists and audiences. Román draws attention to the ways that the performing arts provide unique perspectives on many of the most pressing concerns within American studies: questions about history and politics, citizenship and society, and culture and nation.
The performances that Román analyzes range from localized community-based arts events to full-scale Broadway productions and from the controversial works of established artists such as Tony Kushner to those of emerging artists. Román considers dances produced by the choreographers Bill T. Jones and Neil Greenberg in the mid-1990s as new aids treatments became available and the aids crisis was reconfigured; a production of the Asian American playwright Chay Yew’s A Beautiful Country in a high-school auditorium in Los Angeles’s Chinatown; and Latino performer John Leguizamo’s one-man Broadway show Freak. He examines the revival of theatrical legacies by female impersonators and the resurgence of cabaret in New York City. Román also looks at how the performing arts have responded to 9/11, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, and the second war in Iraq. Including more than eighty illustrations, Performance in America highlights the dynamic relationships among performance, history, and contemporary culture through which the past is revisited and the future reimagined.