Michael Gibson, 60; He Orchestrated ‘Grease’ and Other Musicals, Films

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Times Staff Writer

Michael Gibson, who orchestrated dozens of popular Broadway musicals, including “Grease” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” has died. He was 60.

Gibson died July 15 of lung cancer at the Compassionate Care Hospice at St. Clare’s Hospital in Dover, N.J., his wife, Ellen, told The Times this week.

Born and raised in Wilmington, Del., Gibson graduated from Harvard University and the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he studied trombone.


He began his career as a studio musician in New York City, often working with James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, but Gibson changed career directions in 1972.

That year he orchestrated his first Broadway musical, “Grease,” and went on to orchestrate the movie soundtrack in 1978; it became a platinum album.

He was known for a big, jazzy musical sound with plenty of brass.

“Michael Gibson was one of the best orchestrators we had,” said Stephen Oremus, who co-orchestrated “All Shook Up,” a Broadway musical that opened in May, with Gibson.

“He had an incredible pop sensibility, and he was a great jazz musician and orchestrator,” Oremus said. “He wrote great brass and woodwind charts.”

For more than 20 years, Gibson collaborated with the Broadway musical team John Kander and Fred Ebb, whose credits include “Cabaret” (1966) and “Chicago” (1975).

Gibson orchestrated several revivals of “Cabaret.” He also orchestrated original productions of “The Rink” (1984), “Steel Pier” (1997) and “Kiss of the Spider Woman” (1995) by Kander and Ebb.


“Michael was fantastic at writing beefy brass and percussion sounds,” orchestrator Larry Blank, a longtime friend, recalled in a statement.

Gibson’s skills brought him the admiration of a number of stage dancers, Blank said, among them Chita Rivera, who won a Tony for her role in “Kiss of the Spider Woman.”

He orchestrated solo shows for a number of dancers and performers, including Ann Reinking and Liza Minnelli.

Gibson did some work in Hollywood. He was the musical arranger and conductor for “Roseland” (1977), a romance set in the New York City dance palace, and he orchestrated “Still of the Night” (1982), a mystery that starred Roy Scheider and Meryl Streep.

Gibson is survived by his wife and his son, Andrew.

The family suggests that contributions in Gibson’s name be made to the Compassionate Care Hospice at St. Clare’s Hospital, care of St. Clare Foundation, 75 Bloomfield Ave., Denville, N.J., 07834.