Who's Who in Musicals:
Additional Bios XV
by John Kenrick
Michell, Keith Joseph
b. Dec. 1, 1927 (Adelaide, Australia)
This handsome Australian tenor made his London stage debut in And So To Bed (1951). He won West End stardom as the pimp "Nestor" in Irma La Douce (1958), a role he repeated on Broadway two years later. Michell starred as "Robert Browning" opposite Australian soprano June Bronhill in the long-running London hit Robert and Elizabeth (1964), and played the title role in the first London production of Man of La Mancha (1968). In the years that followed, he had great success in dramatic roles. He will long be remembered for his complex performance as England's most frequently married monarch in the BBC's The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970), a role he repeated in the feature film Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1974) and the British TV miniseries The Prince and the Pauper (1996). Director of the Chichester Festival Theatre from 1974 to 1977, his later musical roles included "Oscar Jaffe" in the London On the 20th Century (1980), and "Georges" in the American and Australian companies of La Cage Aux Folles (mid 1980s).
(b. Ray Earl Middleton, Jr.)
b. Feb. 8, 1907 (Chicago, IL) - d. Apr. 10, 1984 (Panorama City, CA)
This tall, classically trained baritone was the nephew of Metropolitan Opera baritone Arthur Middleton (1880-1929), who was also his first voice teacher. Ray made his Broadway debut as "The Giant" in a Julliard School of Music production of Jack and the Beanstalk (1931). He had the non-singing role of "John Kent" in Roberta (1933), played narrator "Washington Irving" in Knickerbocker Holiday (1938) and appeared in George White's Scandals (1939). Middleton served in the US Army Air Corp during World War II, appearing as "Lt. Sperry" in the armed forces production Winged Victory (1943). He originated the role of "Frank Butler" in Annie Get Your Gun (1946), introducing Irving Berlin's "My Defenses Are Down" and "The Girl That I Marry," and sharing "Anything You Can Do" and "They Say It's Wonderful" with Ethel Merman.
As "Sam Cooper" in Love Life (1948), Middleton sang "Here I'll Stay" with co-star Nanette Fabray, and he took over as "Emile DeBecque" in the long-running Broadway company of South Pacific (1950). After appearing as "Sgt. Fielding" in an all-star revival of Shaw's comedy Too True to Be Good (1963), he made his last Broadway appearance as the original "Innkeeper" in Man of La Mancha (1965), introducing "Knight of the Woeful Countenance." His film roles include the blustering "Colonel McKean" in 1776 (1972), and he appeared in episodes of the TV sitcoms MASH and Too Close for Comfort before his death at age 77.
b. Feb. 21, 1879 (Bradford, UK) - d. Apr. 25, 1952 (Chiddingford, UK)
This daughter of a British mill worker got her start as a child in London pantomimes, then sang and danced in music halls before appearing in a series of early 20th Century musical comedies produced by George Edwardes. Featured as "Cora" in The Toreador (1901), she won the heart of composer Lionel Monckton, whom she married in 1902. Millar starred as "Violet Anstruther" in The Orchid (1903), introducing "Liza Ann" and "Come With Me to the Zoo." She next starred as "Rosalie" in The Spring Chicken (1905), then as "Mitzi" in The Girls of Gottenberg (1907), traveling to New York in the same role a year later. Back in London, she played "Franzi" in The Waltz Dream (1908), and triumphed in the title role of Our Miss Gibbs (1909) introducing "Moonstruck" -- one of many hits written for Millar by Monckton.
Millar continued her reign as London's premier musical ingénue playing "Prudence Pym" in The Quaker Girl (1910), "Lady Babby" in Gipsy Love (1912), "Nancy Joyce" in The Dancing Mistress (1912), "Kitty Kent" in Marriage Market (1913), and "Nan" in a major revival of The Country Girl (1913). World War I brought a change in popular tastes, and after Millar appeared in two flop revues and two equally dismal musical comedies, she left the stage at age 29. After Monckton's death in 1924, Millar married the 2nd Earl of Dudley -- until his death in 1932.
b. Apr. 29, 1842 (Vienna) - d. Dec. 31, 1899 (Baden bei Wein)
Longtime conductor at the Theater an der Wein, Millocker composed some of the most popular Viennese operettas of the late 19th Century. With more than eighty scores to his credit, his biggest hits included Der Bettelstudent (1882), Gasparone (1884) and Der Arme Jonathan (1890). Although his works are now rarely performed outside of German-speaking countries, Millocker was considered a peer to such contemporaries as Johann Strauss II, Karl Zeller and Von Suppe.
Actress, singer, dancer
b. Jan. 25, 1895 (Washington DC) - d. Nov. 1, 1927 (NYC)
Small in size but ablaze with personality, the elf-like Mills became one of the first African-American stage stars to enjoy acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. She first won attention as a cast replacement in the hit Broadway revue Shuffle Along (1921), which she followed with Plantation Revue (1922) -- and its re-titled London version, Dover Street to Dixie (1923). Back in New York, she was featured in the Greenwich Follies (1923), and scored a major success in the revue From Dixie to Broadway (1924), where she turned "I'm a Little Blackbird Looking For a Bluebird" into the hit of the show.
Mills starred in a special edition of Lew Leslie's Blackbirds (1926) which had a brief tryout run in Harlem before winning raves in London. Her admirers included the Prince of Wales (later the Duke of Windsor), who saw the show thirteen times. After a triumphant European tour, Mills returned to New York, where a botched appendectomy led to her death at age 32.
(b. John Lionel Alexander Monckton)
b. Dec. 18, 1861 (London) - d. Feb. 15, 1924 (London)
Monckton abandoned a career in law to compose for lighthearted West End musicals, becoming the most successful British stage composer of the early 20th Century. With contributions to The Shop Girl (1894) and The Geisha (1896), he began a long association with producer George Edwardes and his popular Gaiety Theatre musicals. Monckton's hits included A Runaway Girl (1898), The Messenger Boy (1900), The Toreador (1901), A Country Girl (1902), The Orchid (1903), The Spring Chicken (1905), The Girls of Gottenberg (1907), Our Miss Gibbs (1909), The Quaker Girl (1910) and The Dancing Mistress (1912). Many of these shows later enjoyed successful runs in the US.
Monckton's lyricists included Adrian Ross and Basil Hood, and he was married to soprano Gertie Millar, who starred in eleven of his shows. When syncopated jazz-age rhythms came into vogue, Monckton refused to change his style and, after contributing songs to several revues, decided to retire. He died just a few years later at age 63.
(b. Ronald Moodnick)
b. Jan. 8, 1924 (Tottenham, North London, UK)
This gifted comic actor got his start in London revues, making his book musical debut as the "Governor of Buenos Aires" in the first West End production of Candide (1959). He originated the role of "Fagin" in Lionel Bart's Oliver! (1960), introducing "A Pocket or Two" and "Reviewing the Situation." He repeated this triumph in the 1968 screen version, as well as stage revivals on both sides of the Atlantic. His future musical projects did not achieve the same level of international success. After co-authoring and starring in the short-lived Joey, Joey (1966) and appearing in the ill-fated Saturnalia (1971), Moody focused his energies on film and television. He took the title role in the Leslie Bricusse musical Sherlock Holmes (1989), which failed despite a promising score. His television appearances have included a recurring role on EastEnders, and his many film roles include Ostap Bender in the Mel Brooks comedy The Twelve Chairs (1970).
b. Mar. 1, 1944 (London)
Noted for his work creating sets for opera and dramatic productions (winning a Tony Award for Nicholas Nickelby in 1981), Napier's long-lasting collaboration with director Trevor Nunn included several of the most popular British "mega-musicals" of the late 20th Century. Napier first brought his electronics-heavy approach to musical theatre design in the London (1981) and Broadway (1982) productions of Cats, and dazzled Londoners by filling the Apollo Victoria Theatre with mechanized ramps for Starlight Express (1984).
Napier combined hydraulics and a turntable for the London production of Les Miserables (1985), and saw his high-tech barricades recreated in productions all over the world -- winning his second Tony for the 1987 Broadway version. He received a third Tony that same evening for creating the train-like costumes in Starlight Express (1987) -- but his churlish speech (complaining that Starlight's set did not also win) guaranteed Napier would not see a fourth Tony anytime soon. So it was no surprise when his designs for Miss Saigon (1989) and massive sets for Sunset Boulevard (1993) triumphed in London but were denied Tonys when they reached Broadway. He also designed sets for the New York production of the musical Jane Eyre (2000), and the West End & NY revivals of Equus (2008).
(b. Alice Merritt)
b. Sept. 22, 1849 (Nashville) - d. Feb. 24, 1881 (Cincinnati)
This attractive, ambitious soprano barnstormed America in the 1870s and 80s in a colorful repertory of bastardized French opera-bouffes -- including La Petit Duc, La Fille de Madame Angot and La Grande Duchesse. Acting as both leading lady and company manager, the youthful Oates won extensive press coverage with her colorful antics on and off stage. She was dismissed by big city critics as a "provincial" favorite, a classification she accepted with pride. While preparing for an international tour, she died suddenly at age 32.
(b. Chancellor John Olcott)
b. July 21, 1860 (Buffalo, NY) - d. Mar. 18, 1932 (Monte Carlo)
America's most famous "Irish tenor" got his start in variety and minstrel shows. A series of comic opera performances in New York and London showed promise, but stardom came when Olcott starred in a touring musical called The Irish Artist (1894). For the next three decades, he was one of the most beloved stars on the touring circuits, where he annually appeared in musicals with sentimental Irish themes. Although his shows are forgotten, some of the songs he introduced are still heard (particularly around St. Patrick's Day), including "Macushla," "Mother Macree," and "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling."
(b. Yvonne Wignolle)
b. July 25, 1894 (Ermont, France) - d. Jan. 19, 1977 (Paris)
This enchanting soprano made her debut as a child in Parisian revues, but achieved lasting fame her in French operetta, appearing in such works as Les Contes de Perrault (1913) and Le Poilu (1916). She became a major star of the dramatic stage with husband Sacha Guitry. Their long list of productions included the musical Mozart (1925) -- Printemps played the title role in Paris, London and New York. When the marriage to Guitry ended, Noel Coward created the role of Melanie in Conversation Piece (1934) for her. Printemps won international acclaim with her rendition of "I'll Follow My Secret Heart," which delighted listeners on the West End and Broadway. Back in Paris, she triumphed in the stage and screen versions of Le Trois Valses (1935), then spent the remainder of her long and successful career concentrating on non-musical roles. She turned down a chance to appear as "Aunt Alicia" in the screen musical Gigi (1957). She continued performing into her sixties, and co-directed the Théâtre de la Michodière in Paris with second husband, actor Pierre Fresnay, until his death in 1975
b. Jan. 19, 1896 (Vienna, Austria) - d. Oct. 2, 1967 (Woodland Hills, CA)
Classically trained, Rasch made her first New York appearances in dance ensembles at the Hippodrome, various vaudeville houses and in several revues. After serving as "dance director" for George White's Scandals (1925), she soon became part of Florenz Ziegfeld's creative team, contributing ballet-inspired dances to Rio Rita (1927), The Three Musketeers (1927), Show Girl (1929) and the 1927 and 1931 editions of the Follies. She worked on several early musical films in the 1930s, including MGM's Rosalie (1936) and Sweethearts (1938).
As respect for dance rose on Broadway, Rasch became one of the first dance directors to be referred to as a "choreographer." After The Cat and the Fiddle (1931), she worked on a several historic revues, including The Band Wagon (1931) and Face the Music (1932). Rasch received equal praise for massive ensembles in The Great Waltz (1934) and intimate routines in Jubilee (1935). She staged the dance sequences for several major MGM films, including The Merry Widow (1934), Broadway Melody of 1936, Rosalie (1937) and Broadway Melody of 1940. After staging the elaborate musical sequences in Lady in the Dark (1941) and the short-lived operetta Marinka (1945), Rasch handled some European projects before retiring from stage work. She was married for many years to classical composer Dimitri Tiomkin. Following a long illness, she died at age 76.
Revill, Clive Selsby
b. April 18, 1930 (Wellington, New Zealand)
A versatile character actor who has enjoyed success in every medium, Revill made several memorable forays onto the musical stage. In London and New York, he originated the role of bar owner "Bob le Hotu," the frank narrator of Irma La Douce (1957). Revill played Ko-Ko in a critically acclaimed Sadler's Wells revival of The Mikado (1962), then returned to the US to star as "Fagin" in the original Broadway production of Oliver! (1963). When George Sanders left the Broadway bound Sherry! (1967) to care for his dying wife, Revill took over the title role, but this musicalization of The Man Who Came to Dinner closed in a matter of weeks. It was his final musical to date -- he has since concentrated on TV and film roles.
b. Apr. 21, 1925 (Philadelphia) - Jan. 17, 1985 (NYC)
After getting his start as the co-producer of Make a Wish (1951), John Murray Anderson's Almanac (1953) and the British import Half a Sixpence (1963), Rigby won a Best Musical Tony for producing the already-closed Hallelujah Baby (1967). He was the guiding hand behind a series of nostalgic musical productions, which brought him great frustration. Partners forcibly took control of his smash-hit revival of No, No, Nanette (1971), high cost prevented the long-running revival of Irene (1973) from turning a profit, and Rigby's revival of Good News (1927) toured successfully, but was massacred by New York critics. Those same critics cheered when Rigby produced the lavish burlesque revue Sugar Babies (1980), which ran for five years and toured to tremendous profit. His production of Colette (1982) starring Diana Rigg closed out of town. Rigby died three years later at age 59.