The composer-lyricist of Milk and Honey, Hello, Dolly!, Mame, Dear World, Mack and Mabel, The Grand Tou, La Cage aux Folles and Jerry’s Girls, Jerry Herman, has passed away. In the 1980s his musicals ruled the great white way, with songs that stuck in your head.
Herman was born in July 10, 1931, in New York City and raised in Jersey City. His parents, worked summers as musicians in the Catskills, encouraged him to pursue music. Jerry took up piano and spent his summers at Stissing Lake Camp where he directed the camp’s theatrical productions and began writing music. His first musical was Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun he at 11.
When he was 17, Frank Loesser, encouraged him to keep writing where he did at the University of Miami, which had a strong theatre company.
Moving to New York he produced the Off-Broadway revue I Feel Wonderful, which were songs he had written in college. He also played in the orchestra. It ran for 48 performances at the Theatre de Lys in Greenwich Village. In 1958 Nightcap, another revue, ran for two years at a jazz club called Showplace. It starred Charles Nelson Reilly, who appeared in several Mr. Herman shows. The Showplace hosted his next revue Parade, in 1960. transferring to the Players Theatre in Greenwich Village.
Jerry Herman’s first Broadway show was Milk and Honey, starring opera singers Robert Weed and Mimi Benzell, as well as Yiddish theatre great Molly Picon. It ran for 541 performances and his first Tony nomination.
Producer David Merrick, who presented The Matchmaker, wanted a musical version and 3 years later hired Herman for the job, but first he had to write songs to prove his worth. In a week he wrote he wrote “Put On Your Sunday Clothes,” “I Put My Hand In,” and “Dancing.” The show won 10 Tony Awards.
Mame, won another Tony nomination and gave another hit to Herman.
Dear World (1969), ran for four months. Mack and Mabel, only played two months. The Grand Tour, in 1979, the same. Herman contributed a few songs to the 1980 hit A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine. In 1983 La Cage aux Folles, earned two Tonys and produced a gay anthem that is still being done today. The show ran for more than four years.
A revue called Jerry’s Girls became popular and toured the U.S. in the ‘80s. He appeared on Broadway in 2004 in An Evening With Jerry Herman. He wrote a few songs for the 1996 television movie Mrs. Santa Claus,” which starred Lansbury, and Miss Spectacular, a proposed Las Vegas show that only gave way to a star-studded studio recording.
Jerry Herman represents an era of tune filled shows that you wanted to learn and still live on in the cabaret and clubs. His song styling will be missed.
He is survived by Terry Marler, his partner of many years.
Stage and Screen Favorite Rita McKenzie Has Passed Away
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
The Original Scarecrow In The Wiz Hinton Battle Passes On
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.
The Original Johanna Sarah Rice Now Sings With The Angels
I first met Sarah Rice in 1979, when she played Johanna in the original Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. She had gotten that job while working at Chock Full of Nuts down on 34th Street, which I always found so amusing.
Rice arrived in NYC with $100, two cats, and a piano and shortly originated the role of Marianne in a musical adaptation of The Miser called Hang On to Your Ribbons, off-off Broadway. From that she was cast as The Girl in the long-running original off-Broadway production of The Fantasticks. She continued in the role off and on for over two years. During that time she also played Anne in A Little Night Music, Cunegonde in Candide, at the Guthrie, Miranda in The Tempest and more.
It was on Broadway playing Johanna, for which she won a Theatre World Award and recorded on RCA that Sarah became known. This recording won a Grammy for best show album and Sweeney swept the Tony awards, including best show.
Sarah died Saturday January 6th of cancer. She was 68.
Rice also originated roles in off-Broadway productions such as Susan in New York Theatre Workshop’s The Waves, Eloise in Eternal Love on Theatre Row, and Elizabeth in Swan Song at the York Theatre Company. It was during Eternal Love that I really got to know Sarah, as her costar, who was also her boyfriend John O’Hurley lived in my then ex-husband’s building and we use to double date.
Her voice teacher was Laura Thomas, who I ended up studying with.
Sarah loved opera and wanted to sing more in that style. She was known for her Montreal performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, and her operatic performances in The Marriage of Figaro, The Barber of Seville, The Student Prince, Daughter of the Regiment, The Pirates of Penzance and sang with opera companies across the world, including Venice’s Gran Teatro la Fenice, Santa Fe Opera, Central City Opera, and Dallas Opera.
In film, she did an original docu-drama for HBO called “P. T. Barnum And His Human Oddities”, where she sang and played the role of Jenny Lind. She appeared as Maude Arthur in the PBS series “The Best Of Families”.
In 2009 she was voted favorite female cabaret debut performer by Cabaret Hotline Online readers and in 2010 she won the Bistro Award and 2011 a MAC Award, For Best Female Vocalist, for her critically acclaimed solo cabaret debut, Sarah Rice sings Screen Gems, Songs of Old Hollywood. Her recent shows include her Ivor Novello/Noel Coward show, celebrating the music of the era of Downton Abbey and The Mabel Mercer Foundation’s Cabaret Convention where she returned last year for their Sondheim Evening.
Her death was announced in an Instagram by her friend and fellow performer Rebecca Caine, who remembered Rice for her love of animals. “May you be greeted by every animal you ever loved on the other side and may green finch and linnet birds sing you to your rest.”
Sarah was born March 5, 1955, in Okinawa, Japan, where her father was stationed while serving in the U.S. Air Force.
She was married to her producer John Hiller.
Sarah, you will be missed.
Nancy Sondag Co-Founder of Hearts & Voices Which Brought Comfort to Thousands of People With AIDS Passes Away
By Matt McClanahan
Nancy Sondag, was the co-founder of Hearts & Voices, she was a Board member of the North American Drama Therapy Association, and a Director of Drama and Recreational therapy at multiple New York Metropolitan Health Care institutions. She passed away on January 1 in New York City. at 73.
Nancy’s life was a testament to the power of music and connection to bring solace and joy to those facing difficult times. In 1990, she and I co-founded Hearts & Voices, an AIDS charity that brought music, care, and comfort to thousands of people with AIDS in New York City hospitals. Starting from her living room with just 5 volunteers, the organization quickly grew, performing in 8 New York City AIDS wards, including one dedicated to incarcerated people and another caring for infants with AIDS.
Hearts & Voices’ impact was undeniable, earning recognition with Special Achievement awards at the Bistro, Obie, and Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs in 1991. But for Nancy, the true reward was the countless lives touched by the music and the connections forged between volunteers, performers, and patients.
Beyond Hearts & Voices, Nancy’s passion for healing extended to the field of drama therapy. She became a respected therapist, mentoring others and teaching at Kansas State University. Her dedication to her craft was evident in the many institutions where she supervised, coordinated care, and mentored interns, including Menorah Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing Care, Terrence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center, and Atria Kew Gardens.
Those who knew Nancy remember her unwavering commitment to her work and her infectious enthusiasm.
I remember a Hearts & Voices kickoff show at one hospital. In the elevator on the way out, one of the hospital staff asked, “Nancy, What do you expect to accomplish by doing these shows?”
Nancy hesitated for a moment and then replied very matter-of-factly, “Well… At the end of the show, we expect the patients to rise, throw down their crutches, and walk.”
I was not sure if she was making fun, or being profound. Either way, this answer shows her belief in the transformative power of music and human connection. For Nancy, it wasn’t about miraculous cures, but about offering a moment of respite, a spark of joy, and a reminder of shared humanity in the face of adversity.
Nancy’s legacy lives on in the countless lives she touched, the artists she inspired, and the organizations she helped build. Her pioneering work in drama therapy has paved the way for others to use creativity as a tool for healing.
We are forever grateful for Nancy’s boundless generosity, the countless connections she nurtured, and the inspiration she leaves behind. She may be gone, but the melody of her compassion and the echo of her voice will forever resonate in the hearts of all who knew her.
Nancy is survived by her husband Tom Thomas; Stepson, Craig Thomas, his wife, Rebecca, and two grandchildren, Elliot and Celia.
Nancy is also survived by 10 siblings of which she was the oldest sister; her Auntie and many nieces and nephews; friends; students and patients.
There will be a memorial mass in Nancy’s honor on Friday, February 9th at 1:30 PM at her beloved Church of the Epiphany, 375 2nd Avenue, followed by a gathering to share memories. If you would like to donate in Nancy’s memory, these were causes close to her heart: The Alzheimer’s Association, North American Drama Therapy Association, or Church of the Epiphany.
The World Says Good-Bye to Glynis Johns
Glynis Johns had a career spanning eight decades on stage and screen. She appeared in more than 60 films and 30 plays, winning a Tony Award, Drama Desk Award andnominations for an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a Laurence Olivier Award. She was best known for her roles as Winifred Banks as Mary Poppins and as Desiree Armfeldt in A Little Night Music, introducing the song “Send In the Clowns.”
Born to the stage, Johns made her theatrical debut in October 1923 at just three weeks old, carried onto the London stage by her grandmother, Elizabeth Steele-Payne, a violinist-impresario who had inherited the production’s company from her father. At the age eight, Elmer Rice’s Judgement Day at the Phoenix Theatre in London. Johns was a child ballerina. Many roles followed including roles in The Children’s Hour. She made her screen debut in 1938 in South Riding, opposite Sir Ralph Richardson. She went back and forth from film to stage becoming a household name.
She made her television debut in 1952 the Emmy Award-winning series Little Women. Walt Disney’s The Sword and the Rose, The Beachcomber,The Danny Kaye and Angela Lansbury musical-comedy The Court Jester.followed.
Going from the West end to Broadway she starred in the revival of George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara.
In The Sundowners she earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. In 1964 she co-starred in Mary Poppins. The role earned her the Laurel Award for Best Female Supporting Performance. In 961 she starred in the TV Show The Glynis Johns Show itwas cancelled after thirteen episodes however when CBS reran the series as a summer replacement for The Lucy Show, Glynis ranked #6 in the Nielsen ratings. She appeared in four episodes of the Batman television series as villainess Lady Penelope Peasoup.
In 1973, Johns was in the original cast of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. The song “Send In the Clowns” was written with her in mind. For her role as Desiree Armfeldt, she won a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical and Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical. Johns starred in a production of Ring Round the Moon at the Center Theatre Group, with stage Michael York. in London a production of 13 Rue de l’Amour saw Johns nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award for Actress of the Year in a New Play and won a Variety Club Award for Best Actress.
She was in the television film Little Gloria… Happy at Last, Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School, as Diane Chambers’ mother in Cheers, Murder, She Wrote, working again with Angela Lansbury.
Her last roles were the camera-toting grandmother in the 1995 Sandra Bullock hit While You Were Sleeping and the grandmother of Molly Shannon’s Mary Gallagher in the 1999 film Superstar.
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