Tony Award®-winning American choreographer and stage director Rob Ashford (b. Orlando, Florida, 19 November 1959) grew up in Beckley, West Virginia, and aimed initially for a career in law. But at Washington and Lee University in Virginia he became active in the theatre department, and decided instead to study dance at Point Park University in Pittsburgh. After graduation he migrated to New York City and shared an apartment with his friend and fellow choreographer Kathleen Marshall. (She is the sister of five-time Tony®-nominated choreographer Rob Marshall, and has collaborated with her brother on many shows. Both were born in Pittsburgh, where, presumably, Ashford met them.)
Rob Ashford got his start on Broadway as a replacement dancer in the 1987 Lincoln Center revival of Anything Goes, starring Patti LuPone. In 1992 he was a regular “Swing” (a rotating substitute for members of the chorus) in the revival of The Most Happy Fella and then in My Favorite Year; he also danced in Crazy for You. In Victor/Victoria (1995) with Julie Andrews he was again a replacement Swing.
He began working as a choreographer when Rob Marshall sent him to Buenos Aires to oversee a re-staging of Kiss of the Spider Woman. In 1998 he was Assistant to Patricia Birch in the Harold Prince production of Parade, and the following year was Associate Choreographer to Kathleen Marshall in the revival of Kiss Me, Kate. On his first time out as chief Choreographer, for Thoroughly Modern Millie in 2002, Rob Ashford won the Tony Award® for Best Choreography, and a nomination from the Drama Desk for Outstanding Choreography.
Since then, every Broadway show he has choreographed has had a Tony® nomination: The Wedding Singer (2006) with also a nomination for the Drama Desk Award, Curtains (2007), Cry-Baby (2008) which also won the Drama Desk Award, the Fred Astaire Award, and the Outer Critics Circle Award, and Promises, Promises (2010), which Ashford also directs.
Other choreographic projects in New York have included Tenderloin (2000), Bloomer Girl (2001), A Connecticut Yankee (2001), and Pardon My English (2004) for City Center Encores! and The Boys from Syracuse at The Roundabout Theatre (2002).
Ashford has worked extensively in Europe, especially London’s West End: he won Olivier Award nominations for his work in Thoroughly Modern Millie (2003), Guys and Dolls (2005), and Evita (2006). He made his debut as a stage director there with Parade (2008), receiving Olivier Awards both for Direction and Choreography. Other London projects have included A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Once in a Lifetime (2005), both at the Royal National Theatre, and a fresh new production of Candide (2008) at the English National Opera which toured to La Scala in Milan and the Chatelet in Paris. He continues his involvement with the London theatrical scene as an Associate Director at the Donmar Warehouse Theatre near Covent Garden.
On screen, Rob Ashford staged the musical numbers for Beyond The Sea (2004), Kevin Spacey’s Bobby Darin bio-pic. On television he has staged tributes to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Barbra Streisand for The Kennedy Center Honors, and in 2009 won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Choreography (Hugh Jackman and Beyonce Knowles, dancers) for the 81st Annual Academy Awards®.
Ashford serves on the executive committee of The Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, and on the Board of Trustees for The Joyce Theatre.