Monday, January 3, 2011

FAREWELL: Marcia Lewis

In the hoopla of the holiday season and the rush to talk about the year just past, I was remiss in not pausing to reflect on an woman who passed away recently, Marcia Lewis.

While most people probably recognize her as Mama from Chicago's record-breaking revival run, I have followed her career for years.  Each and every time she was in a show I saw, I always had the same reactions: boy, is she a presence, and why isn't she a huge star?  Well, she wasn't a giant star, but she was what many people wish they were - a career actress.  And she was at home not only on stage, but on TV and films, too.  She was a regular on Happy Days, The Bob Newhart Show and even headed her own series, The Goodtime Girls and Who's Watching the Kids?.

But you are probably here because of your affinity for theatre, and she had quite a career on the boards!  She made her Broadway debut in Hello, Dolly! with Ethel Merman, went toe-to-toe with Vanessa Redgrave in the controversial and scorching revival of Orpheus Descending, and shared the stage with such legends as Georgia Brown (Roza), Teresa Stratas, Larry Kert, Terrence Mann and Judy Kuhn (Rags), and Topol (Fiddler on the Roof)For all the legends and A-list talent she worked with, I'll bet that the pleasure was all theirs.

"Class" with Bebe Neuwirth

As much as I don't care for the show Annie, I bet she was a terrific Miss Hannigan, and I regret not seeing her in it.  I was fortunate enough to have seen her on Broadway in Chicago and the 1994 revival of Grease!  She was Tony nominated for both.  In the case of Grease! that speaks to the level of her talent.  The revival was roundly vilified by the press, and she still shone like the gem that she was.  Even more telling is that she was nominated for a non-singing role in a musical!

In Annie and Grease! (1994)

I also have fond memories of Ms. Lewis on tour - she did several of them.  She was a real joy to watch in a clunker of a show that never made it to Broadway - Busker Alley with Tommy Tune.  And she was a fierce presence in the final Joel Grey tour of Cabaret in the late 80's.  Her Fraulein Schneider was funny, charming and tough as nails.  Heartbreaking, really.  

In Busker Alley and on tour with Chicago along with Charlotte d'Amboise and Brent Barrett

By all accounts, Marcia Lewis was just that in real life - funny, charming and tough as nails.  I'm sure she's entertaining everyone she sees in the after-life.  Thank you for making a difference while you were here.

Ms. Lewis passed away on December 21.


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