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Stephen Hanks, Carol Lawrence, Frank Evans

Stephen Hanks, Carol Lawrence, Frank Evans

This article was kindly given to us by Stephen Hanks and we publish this in memoriam.

Julie Gilbert , Frank Evans

with Julie Gilbert

As a musical theater librettist, lyricist, and lifelong connoisseur of Broadway and Hollywood musicals, Frank Evans would have been extremely sad to learn about the passing of screen legend Debbie Reynolds on December 28. But given his sense of humor and ability for self-deprecation, Evans might have also gotten a perverse kick out of knowing he died on the same day as one of his film favorites.

BMI, Frank Evans

with BMI colleagues

Franklin G. Evans, 70, died last Wednesday evening at Methodist Hospital in Park Slope, Brooklyn, due to complications from multiple strokes that ravaged his brain over the last couple of months of 2016. Evans, who also suffered from Parkinson’s-related dementia and diabetes, had spent the last year rehabilitating from a serious concussion sustained in mid-December 2015.

Bill Gross, Frank Evans

With Bick Goss

“Count the marvelous Frank Evans amongst the many greats we lost this year,” wrote composer/lyricist David Austin on Facebook. “He may not have been a household name, but if you wrote new musicals, Frank was famous to you.” Added composer/arranger Dan Acquisto: “Frank was a gentle and soft-spoken mentor, supporter, and brilliant lyricist who helped a number of unknown writers have their voices heard over the years.”

“The York Theatre Company will miss Frank Evans, its friend and frequent collaborator,” said James Morgan, the York’s Producing Artistic Director. “Frank was a gentleman’s gentleman, as well as a wise and talented writer. We are deeply saddened by his passing.”

“Frank Evans was a supportive fellow artist and I’m so sad about his passing,” said songwriter Kristen Anderson Lopez, who with husband Robert Lopez wrote the songs for the Academy Award winning Walt Disney animated musical, Frozen. “I remember when Bobby and I had our first daughter, Frank’s advice was, “Don’t be afraid to get babysitters–it’s the only way you will keep writing.” His words rang in my head and now I pass them on to pregnant mom writers.”

Frank Evans was born on September 26, 1946 in Cleveland, OH. He attended Antioch College where he earned a BA in Theater. After moving to New York in his early 20s, he worked as a stage manager at McCarter Theatre in New Jersey and at New York’s Town Hall, among other venues. As a budding lyricist, Evans was named to the Steering Committee of the prestigious BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop in 1980 and over his 36 years with the organization he produced many formal and informal presentations of new musicals, as well as special events.

With his long-time domestic partner Ron Sproat (who was a prominent TV soap opera writer from the mid 1960s-early ‘70s, including the iconic show Dark Shadows), Evans wrote two successful off-Broadway musicals, Back Home: The War Brides Musical (score by Christopher Berg) and Abie’s Island Rose (score by Doug Katsaros, additional lyrics by Richard Engquist), which featured Heather Mac Rae in the original New York cast.

In 2002, BMI presented Evans with the Jerry Bock Award for Excellence in Musical Theatre for his work with librettist Julie Gilbert on Dinner at Eight (music by Ben Schaechter), a musical based on the George S. Kaufman/Edna Ferber classic play. Evans again collaborated with Gilbert in 2010-2011 on the play PUMA (directed by New Jersey Repertory artistic director SuzAnne Barabas), which depicted the three-decade long love affair between “All Quiet on the Western Front” author Erich Maria Remarque and international film star and chanteuse Marlene Dietrich. The play received rave reviews from the New York Times, Back Stage, and the Asbury Park Press, among others.

“Frank was a dream collaborator who was overwhelmingly generous,” said Gilbert, who became one of Evans’ closest friends. Evans even served as matchmaker for Gilbert and her husband Bob Holof, a film producer. “Frank was very funny and made you feel that you were funny.”

In 2000, Evans became co-Artistic Director of Musical Mondays Theatre Lab (now Manhattan Musical Theatre Lab), a non-profit organization fostering the development of new musicals founded by Richard “Bick” Goss in 1999. During Frank’s 16 years with MMTL, the group presented dozens of fledgling works, including the first readings of the Brian Yorkey/Tom Kitt Tony Award-winning musical Next To Normal when it was still entitled Feeling Electric. Under Evans and Goss (who died in 2013), MMTL also championed the work of Tony Award winners Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, and 2009 Ed Kleban Prize Winners Eric Weinberger and Beth Falcone (Wanda’s World).

Under Evans’ artistic guidance, MMTL sometimes offered new musicals multiple presentations as the shows continued developing. For example, The Dirty Hippie Jam Band Project, featuring music and lyrics by Daniel Israel and Pheobe Kreutz (with book by Rob Ackerman) had three readings with MMTL, most recently in 2013.

“Frank took our work very seriously and would attend rehearsals, offer feedback, and was always the kind, supportive figure that we needed,” said Israel, who in 2015 became MMTL Board President. “Everyone connected with our show loved him. Frank’s heart, kindness, friendship, and classic laugh made him uniquely special in the musical theater world.”

In the months before his death, Evans had been serving as lyricist and book doctor for a musical about the legendary Howard Hughes, with music by James Scully. Last January, in spite of still recovering from his concussion, Evans attended an industry-only reading of HOWARD at the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center.

Former MMTL Board President Stephen Hanks, who was Evans’ caregiver during his yearlong illness, said that a memorial service is being planned for early spring, with details to be announced at a later date.

Broadway

We Say Good Bye To Costume Designer Extraordinaire Carrie Robbins

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I met Carrie Robbins at an art gallery with Louis St Louis, Baayork Lee and Judy Jacksina. The four of us stayed well into the morning talking, laughing and having a fabulous time. Carrie and I bonded after that as she turned to playwriting. It broke my heart to learn that on the evening of April 12, 2024 Costume Designer extraordinaire Carrie Robbins passed away.

Carrie’s work has been featured in over 30+ Broadway shows, including Class Act, Grease (original), Agnes of God, Yentl, Octette Bridge Club, Sweet Bird of Youth (Lauren Bacall), Frankenstein, Happy End (Mary Streep), Boys of Winter, Cyrano (Frank Langella), & Shadow Box (Mercedes Ruehl).

Her awards and nominations included: 2012 recipient of the Irene Sharaff Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Theatre Development Fund & the tdf/Costume Collection with the support of the Tobin Theatre Arts Fund. 2 Tony (Noms.), 5 Drama Desks, Maharam, USITT/Prague International, L.A. Dramalogue, Henry Hughes, F.I.T-Surface Design, & Audelco, among others.

Robbins’ costumes for the Irving Berlin musical White Christmas played major cities in the USA, Broadway, and Great Britain. Her regional work included M. Butterfly and On the Verge, for director Tazewell Thompson (Arena Stage) and the Gershwin musical American in Paris by Ken Ludwig for director Gregory Boyd (Alley Theatre, Houston) as well as The Tempest (Anthony Hopkins as Prospero) & Flea in Her Ear (director Tom Moore at Mark Taper Forum), many productions for the Guthrie (MN), Williamstown, and many others from Alaska to Buffalo.


Locally, in NYC, Robbins designed for many productions for The Lincoln Center Repertory Theatre, Chelsea Theatre at BAM, Acting Company at Juilliard and NY Shakespeare Festival.

She also designed for the Opera and they included Death in Venice for Glimmerglass (’08 Prague International Design Exhibit), Samson et Dalila (San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand, more), and many productions for Sarah Caldwell’s Opera Company of Boston. Her work has also been seen at the Hamburg StatsOper.

For film Robbins designed the movie “In The Spirit” (Elaine May, Peter Falk, Marlo Thomas); TV design included: Saturday Nite Live, PBS Arts in America, & several unseen pilots.

Robbins has designed clothes for several seasons of Queen Esther Marrow and The Harlem Gospel Singers’ European Tour. She also did the designs for The Cincinnati Ballet’s new Nutcracker, in December of 2011

Robbins was an MFA grad from the Yale School of Drama and was Master Teacher of Costume Design at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts for many years. She is extremely proud of the extraordinary number of award-winning, successful young costume designers and costume teachers across the country who came out of her classes.

Besides being a costume designer Carrie also was a playwright. In August 2010, her play, The Death & Life of Dr. Cutter, a Vaudeville, based on the true stories told by her husband Dr. R.D.Robbins, had its 4th reading at the Snapple Theatre Center; it was chosen by Abingdon Theatre Co, NYC, to be part of its First Readings Series in Fall, 2009. In 2011-12 the  League of Professional Theatre Women chose The Dragon Quartet as part of its 30th year anniversary celebration. In 2012-13, La MaMa (oldest off-off-Broadway theater in NYC at 51 years) chose The Diamond Eater for its “Concert Reading Series”. In 2013: TACT (The Actors Company Theatre, chose Sawbones for part of its newTACTics New Play Festival. In 2014 both The Diamond Eater and Sawbones  received 6 Nominations from N.Y. Innovative Theatre Awards (the most nominations given out in the 2014 season). In 2015, Le Wedding Dress, was a semi-finalist in NYNewWorks Theatre Festival. In 2016: Obsessions Of An Art Student chosen by NYNewWorks Theatre Festival. In 2016, The Actress, was a finalist in NY Thespis Summer Festival. In 2017, My Swollen Feet, chosen by NY Summerfest Theatre Festival/ Hudson Guild Theatre. In 2018 The Diamond Eater , semi-finalist at the 14th St. Y competition War + Peace/2018/19 season and The Dragon Griswynd, was chosen by Theater for the New City for its “Dream-Up Festival” In 2019 Pie Lessons, was invited by Crystal Field, Exec. Artistic Director of Theater for the New City, to be part of “Scratch Night at TNC”.

The last thing Carrie was working on was For The Lost Children Of Paris. This play was about how the Nazis, with help from the Vichy Government, collected French-Jewish schoolchildren and delivered them to Auschwitz. Excellent German record-keeping revealed 11,400 children were taken. At the liberation, only 200 were found alive. This is the story of one classroom’s collection day and its aftermath.

She did this play using puppets as the children.

Carrie had a voice that she used in a multiple of ways. She was a caring friend, a dedicated teacher, a prolific writer and costume designer, who always cared about others first. Carrie you will be missed.

 





 

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Broadway

We Say Adieu To Christopher Durang

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Christopher Durang was a playwright whose absurdist dark plays have been produced on and off- Broadway, around the country and abroad. He made us laugh and take stock of the world around us.

Among his plays: Beyond Therapy, Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You, The Marriage of Bette and Boo, Baby with the Bathwater, Laughing Wild, A History of the American Film, Betty’s Summer Vacation, Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge and Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.

He has written 1,455 one act plays (or perhaps 40), including The Actor’s Nightmare, For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls, Naomi in the Living Room, and ‘dentity Crisis.

Christopher also acts and sings.  He’s had small but fun parts in a number of movies, and acted in some of his own plays.  Some mornings he feels grateful and bitter at the same time, which is a complicated feat.

Name Dropping:  Sigourney Weaver, Wendy Wasserstein, Albert Innaurato, Dianne Wiest, Jerry Zaks, Joan Allen, Elizabeth Franz, Pootie LaPunta, Klevin Kahn, Bertolt Brecht, E. Katherine Kerr, Kristine Nielsen, Sabu, Swoosie Kurtz, Dana Ivey, Chandra Bell, and Fidel Castro.

Final keywords: cursor, satire, parody, glaucoma drops, dog, dog food, bread.

The best way I knew how to honor Christopher Durang was to use his own words, which is what the above is.

Durang died Tuesday at his home in Pipersville, Pennsylvania, of complications from logopenic primary progressive aphasia, said his agent, Patrick Herold. He was 75. In 2022, it was revealed Durang had been diagnosed in 2016 with the disorder, a rare form of Alzheimer’s disease.

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Fashion

Fashion icon Iris Apfel Brings Her Style To Heaven

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Portrait of Iris by tatydesignstudio.com

Iris Apfel was born August 29, 1921 in Astoria, Queens. I had the pleasure of meeting Iris, through Errol Rappaport. His mother Francesca had been one of the first people to bring Iris to recognition and had at one time had a lot of her work in her houses. The two of them had been friends for over 70 years.

Francesca Rappaport and Iris Apfel

Francesca Rappaport and Iris Apfal friends for over 70 years

Iris started her career as a copywriter for Women’s Wear Daily and interior designer Elinor Johnson.

Carl, Errol Rappaport and Iris

Errol Rappaport and Iris

In 1948, she married husband Carl Apfel, and the duo owned a textile firm until they retired 44 years later.  Over the years the pair worked on many restoration projects, including the White House.

Errol and Iris

Carl died at the age of 100 in 2015.

Iris Apfel

Iris Apfel

Iris at 90, she began teaching at the University of Texas at Austin. At 94, she was the subject of a documentary by Albert Maysles, simply titled “Iris”. At 97, she became a model and modeled for Vogue Italia, Kate Spade, M.A.C. and many others.  Iris was also the oldest person to have had a Barbie doll made by Mattel in her image. In addition to modeling, she also designed her own clothing and accessories line for HSN and published a book in 2018. It was then she became a fashion icon and self-proclaimed “geriatric starlet”, at the age of 102. Sadly she passed away on Friday in her Palm Beach, Florida, home.

Iris Apfel

Iris Apfel

Apfel was known for chunky bracelets, layers of necklaces, and those iconic heavy-framed glasses – she nicknamed eyebobs. She came to worldwide attention in 2005 when the Metropolitan Museum of Art showed an exhibition focusing on her fashion sense titled Rara Avis (Rare Bird).

Albert Maysles, Iris Apfel

Albert Maysles and Iris Apfel

Iris’s style, creativity and joy of life will be missed.

 

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Film

Stage and Screen Favorite Rita McKenzie Has Passed Away

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We are sad to report the death of stage and screen favorite, Rita McKenzie. Ms. McKenzie, was known for her powerhouse stage voice and theatrical personality, died peacefully surrounded by her family on Saturday, February 17, 2024 in Los Angeles, days before her 77th Birthday.  Her death was announced by her husband Scott Stander.  She succumbed after a long-term illness.

In 1988 she took New York by storm with her off-Broadway one-woman show, Ethel Merman’s Broadway which became the longest running one woman show in theatrical history. Her tribute to Merman gained critical acclaim and eventually toured throughout the country. She played Lita Encore in the Los Angeles premiere of Ruthless! The Musical and reprised the role in the recent New York revival of the show.

Ms. McKenzie performed a wide range of stage roles throughout the US – including many of Merman’s hits – Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes!, the 50th Anniversary tour of Annie Get Your Gun, and Rose in Gypsy.   She enjoyed a three year US tour of Neil Simon’s The Female Odd Couple, co-starring with her good friend, Barbara Eden.

She was the opening singer for such iconic performers as Milton Berle and his 90th Birthday Tour, Don Knotts, Norm Crosby, Donald O’Connor and Steve Allen. She appeared in the Joe Bologna, Reneé Taylor & Lainie Kazan tour of Bermuda Avenue Triangle as Reneé Taylor’s daughter.

A favorite of symphony orchestra conductors, she performed for the Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Baltimore Pops, and she sang the closing finale for PBS’s Capital Fourth Celebration on the Washington Mall in 1995.

McKenzie had featured roles on TV in The Brady Bunch -The Final Days, Caroline In the City, Frasier with Kelsey Grammar, the film Meet Wally Sparks with Rodney Dangerfield and the TV series Big Brother Jake opposite Richard Lewis and Don Rickles

Most recently, Rita enjoyed her role as Interview host for stage appearances of The Real Housewives (with Vicki Gunvalson, Jill Zarin and Caroline Manzo) and for Barbara Eden’s On The Magic Carpet show.  Her most recent role was as Associate Producer for the pre-Broadway tour of Rupert Holmes’ All Things Equal: The Life and Trials of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

In addition to her husband, Scott Stander, she is survived by her daughter, Jennifer and her husband Tom Otto, of Cold Spring, NY; son, Derek Pflug and his wife Vanessa, of Gilbert, AZ; sister, Nancy and her husband Joe Wood, of Sun City, AZ; and three grandchildren, Mason and Jackson Pflug and Thomas Otto. She is pre-deceased by her parents, Rita and Edwin Schurter, who raised her in Woodbridge, NJ – a Jersey girl, through and through.

“I first encountered the magic that was Rita McKenzie at the Pasadena Playhouse, where my thriller Accomplice played side-by-side with her remarkable tour-de-force Call Me Ethel (ultimately becomingEthel Merman’s Broadway) … in which Rita made an evening with Ethel Merman more delightful, hilarious, touching, and musical than the real thing would probably have been. Over the decades, I was thrilled to see the range and depth of roles in which Rita triumphed, and during these last three years, I was honored and grateful to work closely with her on All Things Equal: The Life and Trials of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a play commissioned and inspired by Rita in tandem with her beloved husband and the show’s lead producer Scott Stander. During the play’s development and rehearsals, Rita’s insights as a savvy theatrical pro and one of the warmest and wittiest humans I’ve had the privilege to know were invaluable in sculpting the piece into the success it has become. It is fitting that this tribute to one remarkable woman bears the imprimatur of another remarkable woman: the unforgettable Rita McKenzie.” – Rupert Holmes

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Broadway

The Original Scarecrow In The Wiz Hinton Battle Passes On

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Hinton Battle won three Tony’s and made his Broadway debut at 18,  playing the original Scarecrow in The Wiz.


He earned his Tony’s for Sophisticated Ladies,


The Tap Dance Kid 


and Miss Saigon. He won Best Featured Actor in a Musical for all three roles, making him the most-awarded actor in the category’s history.

He worked under Bob Fosse in the original production of Dancin’ and Michael Bennett in the original production of Dreamgirls. He was also in the first national tour of Ragtime, as Coalhouse Walker Jr. in 1998.


Battle appeared in 15 films and television programmes, including Quantum Leap, Dreamgirls, and Touched by an Angel. On Quantum Leap, he played Thames, the evil Observer from the future, in the final installment of the Evil Leaper trilogy of episodes.


Battle played the role of the Cat in the first U.S. pilot for science-fiction sitcom Red Dwarf, based on the British show of the same name. Notably, he guest starred as Sweet the jazz demon, in “Once More, with Feeling”, Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s musical episode in which his spell forces the characters to sing their biggest secrets and fears.


Battle’s other Broadway starring roles included Dancin’, Dreamgirls, Sophisticated Ladies for which he won his first Tony Award, Chicago (Billy Flynn), and Ragtime (Coalhouse Walker Jr.), which garnered rave reviews from the Chicago press and earned him an Ira Aldridge Award. His role in The Tap Dance Kid also earned Hinton a second Tony Award, the NAACP Award, and the Fred Astaire Award. He won his third Tony Award for Miss Saigon.

Battle’s long list of television credits included; Shine, his one-man show presented at the HBO Aspen Comedy Arts Festival; The Kennedy Center’s 25th Anniversary; These Old Broads, co-starring Shirley MacLaine, Joan Collins, Debbie Reynolds, and Elizabeth Taylor; and ABC/Disney’s Child Star: The Shirley Temple Story where Hinton served as a choreographer and co-star playing Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson.

As a choreographer, Battle’s work has been seen on the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Once More, with Feeling”, These Old Broads, Foreign Student (with Charles Dutton), The Golden Globe Awards, Dance in America; the sitcoms Fired Up, Sister, Sister, The Trouble with Normal, and The Boys. Hinton has choreographed promos for Warner Brothers, commercials for Coca-Cola, Chicago the musical, and New York Top Appliances. He served as Associate Choreographer on the 65th and 66th Annual Academy Awards with Debbie Allen.

Off-Broadway Battle served as co-director and choreographer for Evil Dead The Musical. Having finished choreographing the movie musical Idlewild, he joined with Wynton Marsalis for The Buddy Bolden Story, a feature film about the untold story of the man who created jazz in the United States. He then directed the stage musical Respect, a musical journey of women from the 1900s – 2007. Battle’s most recent creation, a dance form called Swop that combines swing and hip-hop, was performed on the highly rated Dancing with the Stars in 2006. In 2014, Battle starred in the off-Broadway production Cindy: The Musical.

Battle died on January 29, 2024, at the age of 67.

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