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Utah Star of Broadway Dies at 86

Melva Niles Barborka, a Broadway leading lady, passed away on March 12 in South Jordan, Utah. She succumbed to chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, a neurological disease, at age 86.

As Melva Niles, she stared in the Broadway runs "Song of Norway" and "Magdalena," creating the role of Solis.

After her discovery by Edwin Lester, the legendary producer and founder of the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera, she was cast in the Los Angeles productions of "Magdalena" and "Song of Norway" before the New York premieres. According to Lester, said she had "the most beautiful soprano voice I have ever heard." She also performed opposite Mitzi Gaynor and Walter Slezak in 1949's "The Great Waltz" at Los Angeles Civic Light Opera.

Niles Barborka released two recordings with Robert Peterson, who took over the role of Lancelot in "Camelot" on Broadway in 1962. They are "Things Lovely," a collection of hymns with the CBS Radio Orchestra; and "Bring Us Together," a 1968 concert tour. Another recording was the 1949 Rail Road Hour production of "The Song of Norway" opposite Gordon MacRae.

While touring in "Song of Norway," Niles Barborka sang at the National Theater in Washington, D.C., where First Lady Bess Truman and daughter Margaret attended one of her performances. The ladies were so taken with the stunning voice and the sincerity of the star that she received an invitation to lunch at the White House, where she met and dined with President Harry Truman.

At Valley Music Hall, in Bountiful, Utah, Niles Barborka performed opposite Robert Peterson in "Kiss Me, Kate," James Shigeta in "The King and I" and Art Lund in "I Do, I Do." The popular musical theater Production Company was managed by M. Russell Ballard Jr., a businessman and prominent religious leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Niles Barborka is survived by two sons, Utah residents Cliff Joseph Barborka III and Vincent Barborka.

According to her obituary, "Above all her accolades, Melva Niles Barborka had a magical way of connecting with people. She made friends wherever she went. Whether it be a waitress at a roadside café, a child in need or a leader of her beloved church, she had the ability to make everyone she met feel like they were the most important person in the world. Today, the heavens shine a little brighter after claiming one of its brightest stars."

Funeral services will be conducted on Monday, March 19, at noon in the South Jordan LDS Church Stake Center at 10400 South 2450 West in South Jordan. Interment will be at Veteran's Memorial Cemetery.

CAPTION: Melva Niles Barborka and Robert Peterson

(Photo credits: Courtesy of Melva Niles Barborka family)

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