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Chicago-Based Director and Choreographer Rachel Rockwell Dies at 49

Among Rockwell's productions is the musical Ride the Cyclone.

Rachel Rockwell has died at the age of 49.
(© Allison Stock)

Rachel Rockwell, a leading director and choreographer on the Chicago theater scene, died Monday, May 28 at the age of 49. She had battled cancer for several years, according to published reports.

Rockwell was a graduate of the University of Evansville's theater program. Initially a ballet dancer, she appeared as an ensemble member in national tours of Show Boat and Mamma Mia! before coming to prominence as a Chicago-based choreographer and, later, a director.

Over the course of her career, Rockwell worked at nearly every major theater in Chicago, from Chicago Shakespeare Theater to the Goodman Theatre to the Drury Lane Theatre. She received a grand total of 18 Jeff Award nominations, 11 for directing, five for choreography, and two for acting. She won the award on four separate occasions.

Among her many credits are acclaimed productions of Brigadoon at the Goodman, Ragtime, Billy Elliot, and West Side Story at the Drury Lane, In the Heights, Annie, and Hair at the Paramount, and Ride the Cyclone at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, a production which transferred off-Broadway via MCC Theater in 2016, and recently closed in Seattle. She staged Mamma Mia! at the Marriott Theatre in 2017 while undergoing chemotherapy treatments on her days off.

Rockwell is survived by her husband, Garth Helm, and their son, Jake, as well as her parents, Gary and Glory Heyde, and brother Jeremy Spencer.

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