Tony-Winning Broadway Producer Elizabeth McCann Dies Aged 90

Elizabeth I. McCann, a theater producer known for what one journalist called her “of steel and spirit” who, during a dizzying career spa...


Elizabeth I. McCann, a theater producer known for what one journalist called her “of steel and spirit” who, during a dizzying career spanning four decades, has won nine Tony Awards, including much like half of McCann & Nugent Productions, and gave more to New York audiences. more than 60 Broadway productions, including hits like “Equus”, “Amadeus” and “Les Liaisons Dangereuses”, died Thursday in the Bronx. She was 90 years old.

Her death, in a hospital, was announced by her business partner and longtime friend Kristen Luciani, who said Ms McCann had cancer.

McCann & Nugent, which Ms McCann formed in 1976 with Nelle Nugent, enjoyed a remarkable five-year winning streak, winning the Tony for Best Play or Best Cover each year from 1978 to 1982. The first was for “Dracula” “, a sexy variation on the classic vampire story; the rest was for dramas or satires.

These included “Elephant man”(1979), the story of a physically disfigured man in Victorian England; “Amadeus” (1981), on the bitter musical rivalry of composer Antonio Salieri with Mozart in 18th century Vienna; and “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby”(1982), an eight-and-a-half-hour adaptation, imported from London, of the 19th century social satire by Charles Dickens.

After her partnership with Ms. Nugent ended in the mid-1980s, Ms. McCann won four more Tonys: Best Cover for Arthur Miller’s Productions “A view from the bridge”(1998) and“ Hair ”(2009), one of the few musicals she produced, and best piece for“ Copenhagen ”(2000) and that of Edward Albee “The goat or who is Sylvia?” ”(2002).

Her production relationship with Mr. Albee also included Off Broadway productions of “Three Tall Women” and “The Play About the Baby”.

“Getting ahead in business means having the ability to compromise your conscience, and you get better at yourself as you get older,” Ms McCann told Crain’s business newspaper, at least in part ironically, in 2007. At the same time, a- she said in several interviews, she still felt a childish thrill from being able to walk into theaters without a ticket.

Credit…G. Gershoff / WireImage

Elizabeth Ireland McCann was born on March 29, 1931 in Manhattan, the only daughter of Patrick and Rebecca (Henry) McCann. Her father was a subway driver, her mother a housewife. Both parents were born in Scotland.

Although the McCanns lived in Midtown Manhattan – Elizabeth remembered roller skating in the garment district as a child – they weren’t a theater family. Elizabeth was 14 when she saw her first Broadway show, ” Cyrano de Bergerac “, with José Ferrer; she only went because a cousin from New Jersey had an extra ticket and her mother insisted she go. Fortunately and fatally, she said decades later, the play, for which Mr. Ferrer won a Tony, “blew me away.”

Reflecting on teaching drama, she graduated from Manhattanville College in 1952 and received an MA in English Literature from Columbia University two years later. She worked in theater for about 10 years, starting as an unpaid intern for Proscenium Productions, a company based in Cherry Lane Theater in lower Manhattan. (“Eventually they paid me $ 25 a week,” she recalls.) Frustrated with her lack of advancement, she decided that practicing theater law might be a way forward.

“When I left law school, I was 35,” she recalls in 2002 in an interview with CUNY-TV. After graduating from Fordham University in 1966 and passing the New York Bar, she briefly worked for a Manhattan law firm and held positions in theater management.

Her big break was not a legal job: in 1967 she was hired by James Nederlander as managing director of the Dutch organization. Mrs Nugent was a colleague there.

After teaming up to found their own business, Ms. McCann and Ms. Nugent became general managers of six productions in their first two years together, including the original Broadway production of “The Gin Game.” They then tried their hand at production.

Their first show, “Dracula”(1977), starring Frank Langella, lasted two and a half years and won two Tonys, one for costume design and one for best cover. (The category was called the ‘most innovative takeover’ that year.) Ms McCann considered it a sign of luck when she learned that her mother, who immigrated from Glasgow in her youth, had sailed on the liner. Transylvania.

Another notable Broadway hit was “Morning’s at Seven” (1981), about four elderly Midwestern sisters. Although seemingly bucolic, the production had its dark side. As Ben Brantley wrote in The New York Times, the game might have looked like a Norman Rockwell painting, but its soul was that of Edward Hopper.

When Ms McCann and Ms Nugent started their business, they were casually referred to in the industry as “girls.” After their successes started pouring in, it became “the ladies”. But Ms. McCann saw gender as one facet of a complicated picture.

“Of course, we are women. But you can see it another way, “she said in an interview with The Times in 1981.” Most of the men in the theater world are Jews, and I’m Irish Catholic. You might say, “How the hell did an Irish Catholic – or a New Jersey Protestant like Nelle – ever come in?”

In an industry “desperate for success, products and ideas,” she concluded, “I don’t think anyone cares as much about where these things come from as they think they care. .

There were some bumps along the way. Investors sued Ms McCann and Ms Nugent for fraud after their 1985 show ‘Leader of the Pack’ failed to recover its investment (the fate of some 80 percent Broadway productions). A federal jury ruled the producers not guilty, and a relieved McCann then told the media, “No one is here to cheat the investors. God knows it’s hard enough to find them.

After the partners went their own way – Ms. Nugent also pursued a solo career and produced numerous Broadway shows – they had a brief reunion in 2002, jointly producing the dark comedy “The Smell of the Kill” at the Helen Hayes Theater. It was not a success and closed after 60 performances.

In the early 2000s, Ms. McCann also produced six Tony Awards television shows, three of which won Emmys.

She never married and leaves no immediate survivors.

His last production credit was Martin McDonagh’s “Hangmen,” which was scheduled to open on Broadway on March 19, 2020, but closed after 13 premieres, along with all other Broadway productions, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ms. McCann’s production philosophy was simple. “Producing is really about insisting that everyone pay attention to details,” she said. Le Temps in 1981. “The Titanic probably sank because no one ordered crow’s nest binoculars.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Tony-Winning Broadway Producer Elizabeth McCann Dies Aged 90
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