Alice Playten, small in stature, with a squeaky, interesting voice was larger than life on stage. More than once she was compared with Ethel Merman, which is interesting because she made her debut as a replacement Baby June in the original production of Gypsy, reportedly studying Ms. Merman's every move. In a career that spanned 5 decades, she went on to create memorable supporting roles in Oliver!, Henry, Sweet Henry, and Hello, Dolly! It was actually Henry, Sweet Henry, a mediocre flop that put her on the map: she earned the kind of glowing notices that create an overnight sensation. For that, she earned her first of two Tony nominations and a 1968 Theatre World Award. She didn't just do musicals, either. She performed regularly off-Broadway, and was in both Spoils of War (Tony nomination) and Rumors on Broadway.
Featured in Henry, Sweet Henry and the film, Legend
Those of you with a more modern collection of Broadway cast recordings might know her from Seussical the Musical, in which she played the Mrs. Mayor (of Whoville, of course!), and Grandma Gellman in Caroline, or Change, her final Broadway appearance.
As Mrs. Mayor, just to the right of the girl standing center
She also made a few films - she is a cult favorite with the sci-fi set, having played the fairy Blix in the film Legend. With her unique voice as an asset she also did voice-overs and cartoon voices, including for Felix the Cat.
At the Born Yesterday opening,
April 24, 2011
A vibrant part of the Broadway community, her last social appearance was on the red carpet for the revival of Born Yesterday.
Maybe she wasn't a big Broadway celebrity, but she was a talent to be appreciated. She will be missed.
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