Who's Who in Musicals: P
by John Kenrick
(b. Elaine Bickerstaff)
b. March 5, 1951 (Barnet, UK)
The most renowned British musical stage star of her time, Paige earned attention in several minor parts before creating the title role in the London production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Evita (1978). She also created the role of Grizzabella in Cats (1981), singing the haunting "Memory" in her trademark heartfelt style. American union rules prevented her from bringing either performance to Broadway, but she continued to dazzle West End audiences in Chess (1986) and a hit revival of Anything Goes (1989).
Paige won raves in Piaf (1993), and again when she stepped into the London production of Sunset Boulevard (1995) playing Norma Desmond. The American union finally acknowledged her star status, and she took over the same role on Broadway to rave reviews in 1996. She has appeared in television and film, made numerous concert tours, and was honored with the OBE in 1995. Paige won fresh raves as Anna in a long-running London revival of The King and I, and is returning to Broadway as Carlotta Campion in a revival of Stephen Sondheim's Follies (2011).
(b. Hermes Panagiotopulos)
b. 1905 (Nashville, TN) - d. Sept. 19, 1990 (Beverly Hills, CA)
Pan danced in nightclubs and Broadway choruses before working as an assistant dance director on Flying Down to Rio (1933). It was the first of 17 film projects with Fred Astaire, who used Pan as his coach and choreographer for the next 38 years. Aside from Astaire's films with Ginger Rogers (Gay Divorcee, Top Hat, Swing Time, etc.), Pan's mastery of classical ballet, jazz stylings and tap made him a solid choice for most any project. He choreographed 10 musicals for Betty Grable, and such MGM classics as Hit the Deck (1955), and Silk Stockings (1956). He made cameo dance appearances in several of his films, including Kiss Me Kate (1953) and Pal Joey (1957).
After the decline of the studio system, Pan worked on such big-budget screen projects as Can-Can (1960), Flower Drum Song (1961), My Fair Lady (1964), Finian's Rainbow (1968) and Darling Lili (1969). He worked with Astaire on several acclaimed TV specials in the 1960s, and staged the intricate Roman parade sequence in Cleopatra. After the disastrous screen musical version of Lost Horizon (1973), Pan retired with more than 50 feature films to his credit.
b. Sept. 19, 1901 (Szilagy-Somylo, Hungary) - d. Sept. 13, 1991 (Hollywood, CA)
This prolific producer built his early reputation in Austria, Hungary and Germany. Brought to Hollywood by Universal Pictures in 1936, Pasternak soon produced a series of hits starring teenage soprano Deanna Durbin, who's films saved that studio from bankruptcy at the height of the Great Depression. Pasternack eventually produced nine Durbin musicals, including Three Smart Girls (1936), Mad About Girls (1938) and Nice Girl (1941). His non-musicals at Universal included the Jimmy Stewart-Marlene Dietrich classic Destry Rides Again (1939), which featured Dietrich singing "See What the Boys in the Backroom Will Have."
Pasternak moved on to MGM, where he headed a unit that produced more than 40 musicals between 1942 and 1966. Although less well remembered than fellow producer Arthur Freed, Pasternack's dedication to providing clean, lighthearted entertainment resulted in a number of top-grossing films. He continued to showcase operatic talents -- soprano Kathryn Grayson starred in Anchors Aweigh (1945) with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, and teen soprano Jane Powell starred in Pasternak's Three Daring Daughters (1948) and A Date With Judy (1948).
Pasternack produced a series of films that made tenor Mario Lanza a top rank star, including The Toast of New Orleans (1950) and The Great Caruso (1951). Pasternak's other hits included In the Good Old Summertime with Judy Garland and Van Johnson, and the Doris Day vehicles Love Me or Leave Me (1955) and Jumbo (1962). As one of Hollywood's elder statesmen, Pasternak produced the Academy Awards broadcast from 1965 to 1967, and completed his final feature film the following year. He suffered from Parkinson's disease before his death at age 89.
b. Nov. 30, 1952 (Chicago, Ill.)
After making his Broadway debut in the shattering drama The Shadow Box, Patinkin shot to musical theatre stardom as Che in the original New York cast of Evita (1979). His intense performance brought him a Tony as Best Featured Actor in a Musical. He originated the dual title role in Stephen Sondheim's Sunday In The Park With George (1984), co-starring with Bernadette Peters. He appeared as Buddy in the all-star 1985 concert version of Sondheim's Follies, performed in a one man concert called Dress Casual (1990) and originated the role of Uncle Archie in Broadway's The Secret Garden (1991).
Patinkin portrayed the sexually confused Marvin in the national tour of Falsettoes, and made a series of acclaimed solo concert tours. A powerful dramatic actor, his one musical film (in which he did not sing) was Yentl (1983). Many know him as a doctor on TV's Chicago Hope (1994-2000). He returned to Broadway in the Public Theater's short-lived musical Wild Party (2000), and had a starring role in the cable-TV series Dead Like Me (2003).
(b. Bernadette Lazzara)
b. Feb. 28, 1948 (Ozone Park, NY)
One of Broadway's last bona-fide musical stars, Peters got her professional start as a child in the 1959 City Center revival of Most Happy Fella, followed by a stint as Baby June in a tour of Gypsy. After appearing Off-Broadway in The Penny Friend (1966) and Curley McDimple (1967), she made her Broadway debut as Josie Cohan in George M! (1968). Peters won critical acclaim as Ruby in the Off-Broadway spoof Dames at Sea (1968) before appearing in a streak of ill fated shows including La Strada, a revival of On The Town, and Jerry Herman's Mack and Mabel (1974).
Peters enjoyed success in television and film, winning a Golden Globe for her performance in the musical spoof Pennies From Heaven (1981). She returned to Broadway, winning raves as Dot in Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park With George (1984) before her Tony-winning performance in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Song and Dance (1985). After her scene-stealing Witch in Sondheim's Into the Woods (1987) and her affecting Paula in The Goodbye Girl (1993), Peters won a second Tony starring in a revival of Annie Get Your Gun (1999). Along with many concerts and TV appearances on such series as Ally McBeal and Frasier, she returned to Broadway as Mama Rose in a revival of Gypsy (2003), and will star in a revival of Follies (2011).
Porter, Cole Albert
b. June 9, 1891 (Peru, Indiana) - d. Oct. 15, 1964 (Santa Monica, Cal.)
Born into wealth, Porter published his first song at age 11. He graduated from Yale and studied law at Harvard and music in Paris. He and his wife Linda were so involved in international high society that he felt little pressure to pursue composing seriously. His first Broadway hit was Paris (1928), which included the playful hit "Let's Do It." Porter composed more than twenty Broadway and Hollywood scores, featuring some of the most sophisticated and passionate songs in all of popular music including "Night and Day," "It's De-Lovely" and "Begin the Beguine."
Porter's Anything Goes (1934) was the definitive 1930s musical comedy. He dominated the art form for the next decade with such hits as Red, Hot and Blue (1936), DuBarry Was a Lady (1939) and Something for the Boys (1943). Each of these starred Ethel Merman, whose powerhouse voice Porter reveled in. He was not sure that he could handle the integrated post-Oklahoma! sort of musical play until Kiss Me Kate (1948) became the longest-running hit of his career. It became the first show to win the Tony for Best Musical, in large part due to Porter's brilliant score.
After the disappointment of the mythical Out of This World (1950), Porter had more success with Can-Can (1953) and Silk Stockings (1955). He composed several new songs for MGM's High Society (1956) and Les Girls (1957), as well as an all-star television version of Aladdin (1958). But the death of his wife and the loss of a long battle to save his injured legs from amputation broke Porter's spirit, and he spent his remaining years in seclusion. Long after his death, his songs were featured in the unsuccessful stage musicals Happy New Year (1980) and High Society (1998), and both New York and London saw hit revivals of Anything Goes and Kiss Me Kate. For more, see William McBrien's dellightful Cole Porter: A Biography (Knopf: New York, 1998).
(b. Richard Ewing Powell)
b. Nov. 14, 1904 (Mountain View, Ark.) - d. Jan. 3, 1963 (West Los Angeles, CA)
With his "boy next door" looks and warm tenor voice, Powell was a big band singer before Hollywood featured him in several minor films. Then Busby Berkeley cast him as Billy Lawlor in the landmark Warner Brothers hit 42nd Street (1933). Powell sang the popular "I'm Young and Healthy," and his easy chemistry with Ruby Keeler led to them co-starring in six more films, most with scores by composer Harry Warren and lyricist Al Dubin.
Powell's introduced "By a Waterfall" in Footlight Parade (1933), "I Only Have Eyes for You" and the title tune in Dames (1934), "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" in On the Avenue (1937) and "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby" in Hard to Get (1938). In the 1940s, Powell began an equally successful career in detective films, and eventually went on to produce and direct in the early years of television. After a nine year marriage to actress Joan Blondell (1936-1944), he was married to MGM musical star June Allyson from 1945 on. Powell died at age 59 due to cancer of the lymph glands.
(b. Eleanor Torrey Powell)
Dancer, singer, actress
b. Nov. 21, 1912 (Springfield, Mass.) - d. Feb. 11, 1982 (Beverly Hills, CA)
With her rapid-fire taps (up to five per second), Eleanor Powell rose to Broadway celebrity in her teens, appearing in The Optimists (1928), Follow Thru (1920), Fine and Dandy (1930), George White's Varieties (1932) and At Home Abroad (1935). In Hollywood, Powell proved an immediate sensation in the screen version of George White's Scandals (1935). She tapped to "Broadway Rhythm" wearing top hat and glittering tails in MGM's Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935).
A non-singer, Powell was serenaded by Jimmy Stewart ("Easy to Love") in Born to Dance (1937) and by Nelson Eddy ("In the Still of the Night") in Rosalie (1937). In Broadway Melody of 1940, she danced "Begin the Beguine" with Fred Astaire, arguably the greatest tap duet ever filmed. After marrying actor Glenn Ford in 1944, Powell retired from films, making her final appearances in Thousands Cheer (1944) and Sensations (1944). She made a cameo appearance in Duchess of Idaho (1950), and after her divorce from Ford in 1959 made appearances in nightclubs and on television. The tremendous success of That's Entertainment (1974) re-affirmed Powell's position as Hollywood's all-time greatest female dancer. She died of cancer at age 69.
(b. Suzanne Lorraine Burce)
Actress, singer, dancer
b. April 1, 1929 (Portland, Oregon)
Powell's dazzling soprano won attention on radio in the early 1940s. Her petite figure and wholesome good looks made her an MGM starlet at age 15. Her most memorable moments include singing "It's a Most Unusual Day" in A Date With Judy (1948), trilling "My Hero" in Two Weeks With Love (1950), and dancing up a storm with Fred Astaire in Royal Wedding (1951). She was Millie Pontipee in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), introducing "Wonderful, Wonderful Day," "Goin' Courtin'" and "When You're In Love." By the time the collapsing studio system drove original musicals from the screen, Powell had appeared in 17 films.
Powell's television appearances included Ruggles of Red Gap (1957), singing "Ride on a Rainbow." She played the lead in a stellar small-screen adaptation of Meet Me in St. Louis (1959). She remained active on TV and in nightclubs, making a critically acclaimed Broadway debut in 1974 when she took over the title role in Irene from fellow MGM alumni Debbie Reynolds. After touring extensively in that show, Powell hosted a series of musical movies on PBS. Still an audience favorite, she won fresh raves playing the bewildered Catholic mother of an openly gay man in the Off-Broadway comedy Avow (2000), and appeared in a concert version of 70 Girls, 70. Powell was featured in the regional premiere of Stephen Sondheim's Bounce (2003), and has made guest appearances on such TV series as Law and Order: SVU (2002). The mother of three, she is currently married to her fifth husband, actor Dickie Moore.
(b. Robert Preston Meservey)
b. June 8, 1918 (Newton Highlands, MA) - d. Mar. 21, 1987 (Montecito, CA)
This dynamic and nimble leading man was raised in Hollywood, eventually joining the Pasadena Community Playhouse troupe. Discoverd by a scout from Paramount Studios, he had a long career in B films. Preston achieved lasting fame as con man Harold Hill in Broadway's The Music Man (1957), where he introduced Meredith Willson's tongue-twisting "Trouble" and rousing "Seventy-Six Trombones." He received a Tony Award, as did the show the composer, and co-star Barbara Cook. Preston repeated his performance in the acclaimed 1962 film version -- but Cook was replaced by Shirley Jones.
Preston played Pancho Villa in We Take the Town (1962) which did not make it to New York before taking on the title role in the short lived Ben Franklin in Paris (1964). He won a second Tony for creating the role of Michael in I Do! I Do! (1966) a two character triumph he shared with Mary Martin. He co-starred with Bernadette Peters in the ill fated Mack and Mabel (1974), and later toured in The Prince of Grand Street (1978) which closed on the road.
Preston's non-musical Broadway roles included King Henry in The Lion in Winter (1966) and taking over the lead in the long-running comedy Sly Fox (1976). He was a dashing Beauregard in the screen version of Mame (1974), and received an Academy Award nomination for his performance as the delightful Toddy in Victor/Victoria (1984). His death was marked by a unique tribute during that year's Tony broadcast, with former leading ladies Peters, Cook and Martin joining in song. His wife from 1946 on was Kay Feltus -- who acted in films under the name "Catherine Craig."
b. Jan. 30, 1928 (New York City)
The pre-eminent producer/director of stage musicals in the late 20th Century, Prince learned his craft as assistant to George Abbott. He teamed up with Abbott's longtime stage manager Robert Griffith to produce Pajama Game (1954), Damn Yankees (1955), West Side Story (1957), Fiorello (1959), and other musicals. After Griffith's death in 1961, Prince began to direct as well as produce on his own.
His landmark productions as director/producer include A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (1962), She Loves Me (1963), Fiddler on the Roof (1964), Cabaret (1966), the hit revival of Candide (1974), and On The 20th Century (1978). Prince's collaboration with composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim kept the Broadway musical alive in the 1970s. Company (1970), Follies (1971), A Little Night Music (1973), and Sweeney Todd (1979) were followed by the disastrous Merrily We Roll Along (1981). After that, Price worked solely as director for Phantom of the Opera (1988), Kiss of the Spiderwoman (1993), a hit revival of Showboat (1994) and the short-lived Parade (1998). He also directed several films, including the screen version of A Little Night Music (1978). As both a director and a producer, Prince has received more than twenty Tony Awards, and is a Kennedy Center honoree.
b. July 14, 1895 (St. Joseph, MO) - d. Sept. 15, 1983 (Wadsworth, CA)
One of Hollywood's most prolific choreographers, Prinz's dances graced more than 50 films for Paramount and Warner Brothers. His most notable screen projects include Show Boat (1936), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), This Is The Army (1943) and South Pacific (1958). His choreography was also featured in numerous non-musicals, including The Ten Commandments (1956) and Sayonara (1957).