Remembering Gene Bayliss

Since the 1960s, Staples Players has earned renown for its Broadway-style productions.

The directors and technical advisors deserve plenty of credit. But so do the choreographers.

Beginning in the 1960s, Players have been blessed with choreographers with actual Broadway experience. One of those was Gene Bayliss.

Gene Bayliss

Gene Bayliss

Bayliss — who died last week at 89 — had a storied life. A Birmingham, Alabama native, he starred in many shows at Northwestern University. He was head cheerleader there too, and when the football team traveled to California for the 1949 Rose Bowl, Gene made national headlines by cartwheeling off the train in a raccoon coat and straw hat.

In 1996 — for the school’s 2nd Rose Bowl appearance — he provided an encore at the alumni dinner.

In New York City, Gene — who combined “graceful, creative movement with articulate, expressive speech and leadership” — earned praise as a director and choreographer. He danced in commercials and on live TV, and worked with Dinah Shore, Dave Garroway, and pageants like Miss USA and Miss Universe.

Gene created the staging for the show-stopping “Telephone Hour” and “Lot of Livin” numbers in “Bye Bye Birdie.” He served as associate choreographer for “Carnival,” and recreated those shows (and many others) for over 150 regional and international tours.

He also produced product launches and corporate meetings for Fortune 500 companies.

Gene Bayliss choreographed the Miss Universe pageant in 1977. Here he acts as a stand-in for the winner during rehearsal.. He's crowned by the reigning Miss Universe Rina Messinger, as host Bob Barker looks on.

Gene Bayliss choreographed the Miss Universe pageant in 1977. Here he acts as a stand-in for the winner during rehearsal.. He’s crowned by the reigning Miss Universe Rina Messinger, as host Bob Barker looks on.

But it was Gene’s work with Staples High School that brought him his most local renown. Working with Players directors Craig Matheson and Al Pia, he brought Broadway to the high school stage (including a few signature acts from “Carnival”).

Every Christmas for years, Staples’ Candlelight Concert featured a new production number that he created and choreographed specially for the choir.

Those were his ways of giving something back to the worlds of theater and music he loved so much. (He was also happy to do something for the school his 6 children attended.)

Former Players and choir members recall his avid interest in their careers — and his care and concern for them as teenagers too.

Gene was vice president of the Connecticut Ballet School, and an active parishioner at both the Church of the Assumption and St. John’s in Weston.

A funeral mass is set for tomorrow (Monday, September 19, 11 a.m.) at Assumption Church. Interment with military honors follows in Assumption Cemetery.

Donations in Gene’s memory may be made to the Lambs Foundation, which supports America’s theater legacy. For Gene Bayliss’ full obituary, click here.

10 responses to “Remembering Gene Bayliss

  1. I still have a Staples Players “Oklahoma!” program from ’74… so fortunate to have talents like Gene Bayliss to lend a hand in all the productions.

  2. Madeline Bayliss

    Thank you for helping the wider Stspkes community hear the news of Dad’s passing and remembering their favorite experiences.

  3. Carissa Simon Baker

    I recall fondly when he taught me the little dance I did in 1971 with the barbershop quartet for “Dream of Now” number from Music Man. What a wonderful man!! God bless you, Gene.

  4. Terry Brannigan

    Gene or “Mr. Bayliss” as he was known to my sisters and I was a huge part of my Westport experience. My folks were also theatre people and counted Gene and his wife among their closest friends. Gene was the real deal. In a town with lots of people who will talk about their experience in the theatre, the sum of that collective experience would not touch Mr. Bayliss’!

    He was such an infectious positive spirit. He used to glide into our house and light it up with energy and shared stories about people and shows that he and my parents had in common. He was also generous enough to allow my mother to join him for years rehearsing the Staples Candlelight Concert production number as well as some of the Player’s shows. One of their running jokes I remember as clearly as yesterday was when Mr. Bayliss came to the house one weekend and jokingly admonished my mother for consistently getting the words wrong to “You’re the top” from Anything Goes. I remember them doing the dance in our living room. They were wonderful.

    Lastly, I always loved how Mr. Bayliss would always ask me about me. This is a guy who stood shoulder to shoulder with some of the most iconic people of his time, but still had time to ask me how I was doing.

    What an amazing energy. On behalf of the Brannigans, thank you for your friendship and we will be sure to give your regards to Broadway

  5. I am sure his spirit will live on with all former and future Staples Players! God Bless!

  6. I was so lucky I had the opportunity to learn choreography from Gene. Whether you were participating or watching Gene at work, he was marvelous working with teens!

  7. Margaret Hart Rynshall

    Hey, Carissa, I remember that! For me is was the “Shipoopee” dance and “Nine Ladies Dancing” from our Christmas production. He was so generous with his time and kind and talented. We didn’t realize just how lucky we were to work with him.

  8. I was a little girl with visions of sugarplums in a 1970s Candlelight production number with Mr. Bayliss, and then had two opportunities in the 80s to work with him in the Choir. “Holiday Happiness” and “Oh, them Golden Bells” [I think!] were both so very much fun for the whole group.

  9. Coming to this from a slightly different angle – how incredible that he got to see his grandson Jack Bayliss do such an amazing job as a Player, go on to college, and then come back and do a duet with his sister Maggie Bayliss during Bedford’s Summer Youth Theater talent show this past summer.

    • Madeline Bayliss

      Denise, we appreciate the sentiment. The Jack and Maggie you refer to must be another Bayliss family. The names are among Dad’s great grandchildren and are live in another area. Nice to know that other Baylisses have the stage bug!