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Liz McCann, the colorful Broadway producer who guided such productions as The Elephant Man, Amadeus and The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? on the way to nine Tony Awards, has died. She was 90.
One of the first female producers on Broadway to command a seat at the table occupied largely by men, McCann died Wednesday of cancer at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx, her longtime associate and friend Kristen Luciani announced.
With Nelle Nugent, McCann created the formidable general management and production company McCann & Nugent, and their string of Tony-winning productions included 1979’s Dracula, starring Frank Langella, and The Elephant Man; 1980’s Morning’s at Seven and Amadeus, starring Tim Curry and Ian McKellen; and 1981’s The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby.
In 1993, she began a fruitful artistic relationship with Edward Albee when she produced his Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiographical play, Three Tall Women.
That led to further collaborations in 2002 on The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? — Albee’s first best play Tony winner in 30 years — which starred Bill Pullman and Mercedes Ruehl and then Sally Field and Bill Irwin; a 2005 revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? starring Kathleen Turner and Irwin; and the off-Broadway hits The Play About the Baby and Becket/Albee, the latter two starring Marian Seldes and Brian Murray.
McCann also won Tonys for her work on The Goat as well as for 1998’s A View From the Bridge, 2000’s Copenhagen and the 2009 revival of Hair.
Elizabeth Ireland McCann was born March 29, 1931, on the West Side of Manhattan. Her parents, Patrick, a subway motorman, and Rebecca, a housewife, were Scottish immigrants. She credited her folks’ flair for storytelling with spawning her love of theater.
McCann began her career in theater as a production assistant and manager with Proscenium Productions at the Cherry Lane Theatre in the 1950s.
After several short-term theater gigs, McCann completed a law degree at Fordham University, having earlier graduated from Manhattanville College, where she acted in such plays as Little Women and discovered Yul Brynner’s name on a label sewn into a rental costume she wore for one school production.
She later earned a master’s in English literature at Columbia, intending to become a drama teacher. While pursuing English throughout her education, she allowed that she always “troubled in theater.”
In 1967, she was hired as managing director by Broadway theater owner James Nederlander.
McCann & Nugent’s other Broadway productions included Night and Day, starring Maggie Smith; 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, Much Ado About Nothing and the Derek Jacobi-starring Cyrano de Bergerac.
As GMs, McCann & Nugent managed the Broadway productions of Gin Game with Tandy and Hume Cronyn, Tintypes, Crimes of the Heart, ‘Night Mother and Tango Argentino as well as The Robber Bridegroom, Otherwise Engaged and Victor Borge’s Comedy With Music.
She also produced Les Liaisons Dangereuses, A Delicate Balance, Well, Equus, Passing Strange, Butley, My Fat Friend, Shakespeare for My Father, Nick & Nora, Orpheus Descending and a Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Having partnered with Daryl Roth on Albee productions, McCann co-produced Paula Vogel’s play Indecent with Roth on Broadway in 2018 and most recently joined Robert Fox in producing Martin McDonagh’s Hangmen, which closed on Broadway at the onset of the pandemic.
She also produced extensively off-Broadway, including The Lady With the Clarinet and Painting Churches, both with Nugent; served as executive producer of the Tony Awards for several years; and was GM of the Big Apple Circus.
McCann was widely known as one of the fastest hang-ups on Broadway, with many of her phone calls ending with a flourish. Once, after a one-sided, heated discussion on the phone, she slammed down the receiver and quipped to her staff, “Do you think that performance will win me a Tony?”
A fixture at Broadway opening nights — she opted for a seat on the aisle in the back row, where she could greet the audience on its way in and out — she was celebrated on her 90th birthday in March when scores of actors, directors, playwrights, producers, friends, colleagues and fans gathered on Zoom.
Survivors include cousins in Ohio. Funeral arrangements are being made by Crestwood Funeral Home in Manhattan, and a Mass will take place at St. Paul the Apostle in New York.
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