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Legendary Broadway Producer Liz McCann Dies at 90

She Began Her Career in the 1950s

Legendary Broadway Producer Liz McCann Dies at 90

Elizabeth Ireland McCann, the iconoclastic Broadway producer who won nine Tony Awards during a 60-year career in theater, died after a bout with cancer on Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021 at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx, according to her longtime associate and friend, Kristen Luciani. She was 90 years old.

One of the first women to command a place at the table populated largely by male producers, Ms. McCann - known up and down Broadway as simply, "Liz" - began her career in theater as a production assistant and manager with Proscenium Productions at the Cherry Lane Theatre in the 1950's. Proscenium was, in fact, the first theater off the Broadway circuit to win a Special Tony Award (1955) for its groundbreaking productions of THE WAY OF THE WORLD and THIEVES' CARNIVAL. After a string of short-term gigs in theater, Liz eventually completed a law degree at Fordham University, having previously graduated from Manhattanville College, where she acted in plays: Jo in LITTLE WOMEN), and she discovered the actor Yul Brynner's name was on a label sewn into a rental costume she wore for one school production. She later earned a Masters in English Literature at Columbia, intending to become a drama teacher. While pursuing English throughout her education, Liz allowed that she always "troubled in theater."

Broadway came calling in 1967 when she was hired as Managing Director by the influential theater owner James Nederlander (Jimmy Sr.). Eventually, she and Nelle Nugent created the formidable general management and production company, McCann & Nugent.

Liz and Nelle's "Midas touch" remains legendary in the history of Broadway: their string of Tony Award-winning productions is practically unparalleled - DRACULA (1979), THE ELEPHANT MAN (1979), MORNING'S AT SEVEN (1980), AMADEUS (1980), THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF NICHOLAS NICKLEBY (1981). McCann & Nugent's other Broadway productions include NIGHT AND DAY starring Maggie Smith, PIAF, ROSE (starring Glenda Jackson and Jessica Tandy), LEADER OF THE PACK, THE DRESSER, MASS APPEAL, GOOD, THE GLASS MENAGERIE (starring Jessica Tandy and Amanda Plummer), and The Royal Shakespeare Company's ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL along with MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING and CYRANO DE BERGERAC starring Derek Jacobi.

As General Managers, McCann & Nugent managed the Broadway productions of GIN GAME with Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn, TINTYPES, CRIMES OF THE HEART, 'night MOTHER and TANGO ARGENTINO, along with THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM, OTHERWISE ENGAGED and COMEDY WITH MUSIC by Victor Borge.

In partnership with other producers, Ms. McCann earned four more Tony Awards for THE GOAT by Edward Albee, COPENHAGEN, A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, and the revival of HAIR. She was also a producer of LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, A DELICATE BALANCE, WELL, EQUUS, PASSING STRANGE, BUTLEY, MY FAT FRIEND and SHAKESPEARE FOR MY FATHER (both starring Lynn Redgrave), NICK & NORA, ORPHEUS DESCENDING starring Vanessa Redgrave, and A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM on Broadway. She produced extensively Off-Broadway, also, including THE LADY WITH THE CLARINET and PAINTING CHURCHES, both with Ms. Nugent. She served as Executive Producer of the Tony Awards for several years, and was General Manager of the Big Apple Circus.

Elizabeth Ireland McCann was born March 29, 1931 on Manhattan's West Side, the daughter of Scottish immigrants: Patrick, a subway motorman, and Rebecca (Henry), a housewife. She credited her parents' flair for storytelling with spawning her own love of theater. She was taught by nuns at parochial school. With Scottish parents and Ireland as her middle name, Liz's true heritage was a source of bedevilment throughout her life. When she applied for a job at the leading ad agency McCann Ericson, the woman in the personnel office seemed skeptical of the tall, young Liz who showed up without an appointment until she saw the McCann last name and became flummoxed, to which Liz remarked, "I'm not the McCann you're thinking of. I'm Patty McCann's kid."

Liz loathed hearing Broadway referred to as an 'industry,' reminding colleagues that they were all part of a 'community.' No one disputed her brilliance as a producer and manager, and she was widely-known as one of the fastest hang-ups on Broadway. Many phone calls ended with a "flourish." Once, after a one-sided heated discussion on the phone, she slammed down the receiver with dramatic flair and quipped to her staff, "Do you think that performance will win me a Tony?"

She had a keen and daring sense of business and promotion, and loved the theatre with the heart of a poet and a dreamer, embracing every aspect of it. As a producer, with her devotion to the written word, she was generally considered a playwright's best friend. In truth, her professional relationships with numerous writers such as Peter Shaffer and Edward Albee evolved into deep, abiding friendships.

In 1993, Liz began what would be the most fruitful artistic relationship of her later years when she produced Edward Albee's Pulitzer Prize-winning THREE TALL WOMEN. Both were emerging from somewhat fallow periods in their respective, illustrious careers, and the enormous success of Albee's autobiographical play in New York, on tour and in London set Liz and Edward on a glorious path that led to the 2002 Tony Award-winning THE GOAT, OR WHO IS SYLVIA? (Mr. Albee's first Best Play Tony Award in 30 years), which starred Bill Pullman and Mercedes Ruehl, and later Sally Field and Bill Irwin, along with the 2005 revival of WHO'S AFRAID OF Virginia Woolf? starring Kathleen Turner and Mr. Irwin, and the Off-Broadway hits, THE PLAY ABOUT THE BABY and BECKET/ALBEE. The latter two productions triumphantly paired the great thespians, Marian Seldes and Brian Murray, and amounted to unforgettable evenings in the theater that doubled as master classes in acting by two of the stage's most artful craftsmen.

Having partnered with Daryl Roth on the Albee productions, Ms. McCann co-produced Paula Vogel's play INDECENT with Ms. Roth on Broadway in 2018 and, most recently joined Robert Fox in producing Martin McDonagh's HANGMEN, which closed precipitously on Broadway at the onset of the pandemic.

Liz had long-standing relationships with theater owners on Broadway - the Nederlanders, Shuberts and Jujamcyns - and across the country and in London, where she occasionally produced, as well. The producer Paul Libin was a classmate at Columbia.

She was a fixture at Broadway opening nights - opting for a seat, on the aisle, in the back row where she could greet the audience on its way in - and out.

She was an inveterate nap-taker, avid reader and a great lover of cats. Her most recent favorite is Miss Sophie. Liz was feted on her 90th birthday earlier this year when scores of actors, directors, playwrights, producers, friends, colleagues, fans gathered on Zoom.

In an unscripted moment in 2005, Liz and Mr. Albee were photographed, unaware, by an associate during intermission of WHO'S AFRAID OF Virginia Woolf? outside the Longacre Theatre. In their late 70's at the time, the producer and playwright each leaned on either side of the lid of a city trash bin, nose-to-nose in deep conversation. They appeared oblivious to the placard on the bin, which was promoting a city works program with the slogan: DO NOT LET SENIOR TALENT GO TO WASTE. Indeed, they did not.

Ms McCann's survivors include cousins in Ohio, and a throng of ardent friends and admirers for whom she served variously as sister, mother, aunt, guardian angel, cheerleader, mentor - all with tremendous wit and intelligence.

Funeral arrangements are being made by Crestwood Funeral Home in Manhattan. A Mass will take place at St. Paul the Apostle (60th St. and Columbus).

TodayTix Black Friday

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