Thursday, December 23, 2010
In the early morning of December 21st Marcia Lewis, the brassy and beloved musical star of hit Broadway revivals of "Grease!" and "Chicago", died in Nashville. In the 1990's Mrs. Lewis was nominated two times for the Tony Award for Featured Actress in a musical for her roles as Miss Lynch in the critically disliked but successful 1994 revival of "Grease!" and was nominated again for what was probably her greatest success for her role as the saucy, hard-as-nails Matron "Mama" Morton in Kander and Ebb's revival of "Chicago" for which originally went to Lainie Kazan at City Center before she got a television show. She appeared on both "Grease!" and "Chicago's" cast recordings and was able to perform her hit number "When You're Good to Mama" on the Rosie O'Donnell Show.
Mrs. Lewis was also on Broadway, where she played the comically evil Miss Hannigan in the original run of "Annie" a role she also played at The Music Circus in Sacramento, and Long Beach Civic Light Pera - Drama League Award, Best Actress, Rachel Halpern in the short-lived "Rags" (Drama Desk Nomination), Golde in a 1990 revival of "Fiddler on the Roof", and squared off with Vanessa Redgrave as the distrusting Nurse Porter in "Orpheus Descending," "Time of Your Life" at Lincoln Center, She made her Broadway debut in "Hello, Dolly!" taking over the role of Ernestina opposite Phyllis Dillier and Ethel Merman. Ms. Lewis was loud and brassy enough to make sure she could be heard without the aid of a mike. She liked to tell the story how, while making her Broadway debut with Ethel Merman in the original "Hello, Dolly!", the Broadway legend told her, "Marcia, you and I are never going to have to worry about reaching the balcony."
She appeared as Fraulein Schneider opposite Joel Grey in a Hal Prince directed tour of "Cabaret," the pre Broadway tour of "Busker Alley", National tour of "42nd Street," and "Bye, Bye Birdie" with Tommy Tune," Off-Broadway Theatre of the Zanies in "An Impudent Wolf" (1965), the Players Theatre in "Who's Who Baby? (1968), and Playwrights Horizons in "Romance Language," in 1984 and "When She Danced" in" 1990 and in Wendy Wasserstein's musical "Miami". She also had an extensive cabaret career, appeared in a 2002 Actors Fund benefit concert of "Funny Girl", and starred in productions of "Nunsense" as Sister Mary Hubert opposite Kaye Ballard and Jaye P. Morgan among many regional credits.
She appeared on television in the filmed production of "Orpheus Descending," NBC's "Legs," was a series regular on "Who's Watching the Kids?," "The Goodtime Girls," and was seen in the television movies "The Night They Took Miss Beautiful," "How to Survive a Happy Divorce," and "When She Was Bad," She has played in episodes of "The Bob Newhart Show," "Happy Days," "Kate and Allie," "Mr. Belvedere," "Hollywood Squares" and "Sesame Street." In an especially memorable "Bionic Woman," Marcia appeared as the colorful lady wrestler, "Amazon April" Armitage.
She can be heard on the following recordings "A Bag of Popcorn & a Dream" (1998 Concept Cast), "Kelly" (1998 Studio Cast), "The Night of the Hunter", "Chicago: The Revival" (Grammy Award Best Cast Album), "Big City Rhythm" (1996 New York City Cast), "Grease The New Broadway Cast Recording" (both the Rosie O'Donnell & the Brooke Shields recordings) and "Rags".
She recorded a wonderful CD in 1998 titled "Marcia Lewis Nowadays with THE MARK HUMMEL QUARTET" on the Original Cast Records label that I purchased the first week it was out. It gave myself and others a chance to hear Lewis singing new arrangements and interpretations of 18 songs from such shows as "Chicago" ("Nowadays"), "Destry Rides Again" ("Anyone Would Love You"), "Cabaret" ("So What!"), "Hello, Dolly!" ("It Only Takes a Moment"), "Dear World" ("And I Was Beautiful"), "State Fair" ("It Might As Well Be Spring"), "Oklahoma!" (People Will Say We're in Love), and songs that might have been missed from shows like "Paper Moon" ("I Do What I Can"), "Roza" (A House in Algiers) "Lily & Lily" (Whatever it Takes), "Carnival in Flanders" (Here's that Rainy Day mixed in with In the Wee Small Hours of the Evening, and the original version of "Grand Hotel" After Autumn) along with her club songs Circle of Friends and Tragic Nurse Porters Lament which was her take on her character from "Orpheus Descending."
In the liner notes, Lewis wrote, "I arrived in New York City in August 1964 -- a nurse from Ohio with one dream in her heart: To be in 'Show Biz!' It was tough to leave the financial security of a respected profession for a career that was so far-fetched and hard to get...but I made it, and I enjoyed every step of the journey." It was "proof to me that anything is possible...nothing is beyond our reach...however long it takes." The helpful liner notes explain her links to the tunes.
If you can find this CD and enjoy lesser known songs sung with a distinct brassy voice then please pick it up. She's particularly wonderful on her recorded performances of "So What," "House in Algiers," "Tragic Nurse Porter's Lament" which she fantasized a musical version with this second act soliloquy, and a lovely ballad "He Has a Way."
Finally In film she made her film debut in the award-winning "Night Warning". She has also been seen in "Curtain Call" and as The Frog Lady in the MGM science fiction comedy caper "Ice Pirates."
Mrs. Lewis was quoted as saying bout her role as Matron "Mama" Morton "All of a sudden, I'm playing this very sexual tough cookie, and I love it," Lewis told Playbill website. "I love sitting on the sidelines and watching the audience's reaction to the show. It's exciting every night."
Bebe Neuwirth, who played Velma Kelly, reflected on Ms. Lewis' work on Dec. 21, telling Playbill.com, "Marcia was a deeply talented, and extraordinarily entertaining artist. But beyond that, she was one of the most profoundly good people I've been blessed to know. She was so kind, sweet, compassionate and loving. When she flashed her smile — one of pure love, sparkling delight and mischief — your world lit up, and joy reigned. Everyone who knew this beautiful woman — colleagues, friends, family, audiences — loved her; she will be deeply missed by us all."
Her stage work tapered off after that triumph. But she pulled a surprise finale out of her sleeve. In 2001, Ms. Lewis — who had been previously wed once before — married Nashville businessman Fred Bryan, a financial advisor who had seen "Chicago" 15 times. The two had met in 1999 at the 21st anniversary party of friends at the Hotel Europa in Venice.
"By the end of the party, I was glowing," Ms. Lewis said. "I had been pretty much on my own and working every night for two decades. But about two years ago I started thinking about love, and I made a list of every characteristic I wanted in a man." Mr. Bryan began traveling to New York to visit a daughter — and to see "Chicago".
Marcia Lewis was born in Melrose, MA, and raised in Cincinnati, OH. She was a registered nurse at the The University of Cincinnati and Mount Sinai Hospital, New York, receiving her RN from the Jewish Hospital School of Nursing, Cincinnati.
Karen Ziemba, was quoted as saying "I just spoke to Marcia a few weeks ago. She told me she seldom picks up the phone, but had just come back into the kitchen to put a beautiful rose from her garden into a vase. Well, she indeed picked up, and there I was on the other end of the line, her with her rose in hand. Marcia was a beautiful rose of the highest order. Never had an unkind word to say about anyone, yet, as an actress, could play the most diabolical characters that you still cared about, because each one had a heart underneath and a smile as big as all outdoors. I will never forget her."
In 2001, after her honeymoon, she returned to the role of Matron "Mama" Morton of "Chicago". She also toured with the show in 2003. She recently lived in Nashville, and considered herself retired from the business.
On a personal note I remember being a teenage in my small town having one of those CD shops where you could bring the empty CD case up to the counter and they would let you listen to the CD. I remember picking up "Rags" because it looked different I knew Larry Kert and Judy Kuhn at the time and falling in love with her duet with Dick Latessa "Three Sunny Rooms" and being charmed at that she as able to convince him in song she was good for him and was able to offer him and his daughter a nice clean, sunny place to live in exchange for marriage while remaining charming. Something that any who would have done in a second. It's too often said but there weren't and will not be any like her.