Overtures Fond Memories of Sheila O’Neill (1930-2017)

Sheila O’Neill, dancer and choreographer has died at the age of 87.  She was born on 5 May 1930 and died on 16 October 2017.  Her long career spanned classical and jazz dance, revue, musicals, cabaret and film.

Sheila trained in classical dance but sought a career on the musical stage.  Impresario Jack Hylton chose her to play the small part of Yvonne Sorel and to be one of the principal dancers in his London production of Paint Your Wagon.  

Again for Jack Hylton she was given the part of one of the three dancing Princesses of Abadu in the original London production of Kismet in 1955.  Sheila so impressed Hylton that she was given featured billing in the new Crazy Gang revue Jokers Wild at the Victoria Palace.

 

Having found a voice to match her dancing talent she went on to appear in many other fifties and sixties revues such as Six to One starring Dora Bryan, One Over the Eight with Kenneth Williams and the less successful Chaganog.  There was also the Lyric Hammersmith musical How Now Brown Cow which unfortunately disappeared quickly.

Sheila was a regular dancer / performer on television and also in the world of cabaret appearing all over the world and including New York and Cunard.  She made a few films, notably Dream Maker and Half a Sixpence with Tommy Steele and Summer Holiday with Cliff Richard.

When Matt Mattox came to the Palladium Sheila became his dancing partner.  Mattox could boast of dancing with Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and as one of the brothers in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

She returned to the West End stage to feature in original London production of Sweet Charity and eventually took over the lead role.  There was also a return to Kismet in its 1987 revival in which she again played a Princess.  Her last West End show was Applause.

At this stage in her career she became a choreographer for the 1970 Kiss Me Kate revival. The King and I and The Beggar’s Opera in Chichester.  She was the National Theatre’s adviser in movement for a number of years.  

Sheila met her husband, Don Lawson, during the run of One Over the Eight.  Don was a hugely successful modern jazz musician.  He died in 2015 after a marriage of fifty years.

RSB