Actress Rita McKenzie Passes Away at 76

McKenzie died peacefully surrounded by her family on Saturday, February 17, 2024 in Los Angeles, days before her 77th Birthday.

By: Feb. 18, 2024
Actress Rita McKenzie Passes Away at 76
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Rita McKenzie, known for her powerhouse stage voice and theatrical personality, died peacefully surrounded by her family on Saturday, February 17, 2024 in Los Angeles, days before her 77th Birthday.  Her death was announced by her husband Scott Stander.  She succumbed after a long-term illness. 

In 1988 she took New York by storm with her off-Broadway one-woman show, Ethel Merman's Broadway which became the longest running one woman show in theatrical history.  Her tribute to Merman gained critical acclaim and eventually toured throughout the country.   She played Lita Encore in the Los Angeles premiere of Ruthless! The Musical and reprised the role in the recent New York revival of the show. 

Ms. McKenzie performed a wide range of stage roles throughout the US - including many of Merman's hits - Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes!, the 50th Anniversary tour of Annie Get Your Gun, and Rose in Gypsy.   She enjoyed a three-year US tour of Neil Simon's The Female Odd Couple, co-starring with her good friend, Barbara Eden.  

She was the opening singer for such iconic performers as Milton Berle and his 90th Birthday Tour, Don Knotts, Norm Crosby, Donald O'Connor and Steve Allen. She appeared in the Joe Bologna, Reneé Taylor & Lainie Kazan tour of Bermuda Avenue Triangle as Reneé Taylor's daughter.

A favorite of symphony orchestra conductors, she performed for the Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Baltimore Pops, and she sang the closing finale for PBS's Capital Fourth Celebration on the Washington Mall in 1995. 

McKenzie had featured roles on TV in The Brady Bunch -The Final Days, Caroline In the City, Frasier with Kelsey Grammar, the film Meet Wally Sparks with Rodney Dangerfield and the TV series Big Brother Jake opposite Richard Lewis and Don Rickles 

Most recently, Rita enjoyed her role as Interview host for stage appearances of The Real Housewives (with Vicki GunvalsonJill Zarin and Caroline Manzo) and for Barbara Eden's On The Magic Carpet show.  Her most recent role was as Associate Producer for the pre-Broadway tour of Rupert Holmes' All Things Equal: The Life and Trials of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

"I first encountered the magic that was Rita McKenzie at the Pasadena Playhouse, where my thriller Accomplice played side-by-side with her remarkable tour-de-force Call Me Ethel (ultimately becoming Ethel Merman’s Broadway) ... in which Rita made an evening with Ethel Merman more delightful, hilarious, touching, and musical than the real thing would probably have been. Over the decades, I was thrilled to see the range and depth of roles in which Rita triumphed, and during these last three years, I was honored and grateful to work closely with her on All Things Equal: The Life and Trials of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a play commissioned and inspired by Rita in tandem with her beloved husband and the show's lead producer Scott Stander. During the play's development and rehearsals, Rita's insights as a savvy theatrical pro and one of the warmest and wittiest humans I've had the privilege to know were invaluable in sculpting the piece into the success it has become. It is fitting that this tribute to one remarkable woman bears the imprimatur of another remarkable woman: the unforgettable Rita McKenzie." - Rupert Holmes

In addition to her husband, Scott Stander, she is survived by her daughter, Jennifer and her husband Tom Otto, of Cold Spring, NY; son, Derek Pflug and his wife Vanessa, of Gilbert, AZ; sister, Nancy and her husband Joe Wood, of Sun City, AZ; and three grandchildren, Mason and Jackson Pflug and Thomas Otto. She is pre-deceased by her parents, Rita and Edwin Schurter, who raised her in Woodbridge, NJ - a Jersey girl, through and through.  



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