RIP Roger Rees

Roger Rees

Roger Rees, the Tony winning actor and director, died on July 10 at age 71, after a short illness.

A familiar face on television — he was the snobbish Robin Colcord on  “Cheers” and the eccentric British ambassador, Lord John Marbury, in “The West Wing,” — Rees made his mark as a theater artist of great energy and inventiveness. He wowed New York audiences in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s marathon adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby,” for which he won the 1982 Tony for best actor in a play. He had earlier won an Olivier in England for the role, and later, when it was adapted for television, earned an Emmy nomination.

From the Playbill obituary: “Nicholas Nickleby was unlike anything else ever seen on the London or New York stages when it arrived in the early 1980s. David Edgar adapted Dickens’ 1839 tale of the fortune-tossed, but loyal and good-hearted Nicholas who, after losing his father, must struggle to support his mother and sister, all without the help of his uncle Ralph, a heartless businessman.”

(I had the extreme pleasure of seeing Rees in Nicholas Nickleby. In my memory, the play lasted 13 hours long, yet his energy never flagged. He was bopping not only all over the stage, but throughout the audience as well. He gave me a piece of bread.)

Rees’ ninth and last performance on Broadway was opposite Chita Rivera in The Visit, which Rees was forced to leave in May for a medical procedure.  He also co-directed with Alex Timbers “Peter and the Starcatcher,” for which they were nominated for a Tony.

From the AP: “Born in Aberystwyth, Wales, in 1944, he spent more than two decades with the Royal Shakespeare Company and served as the artistic director of the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts from 2004 to 2007. He was also the associate artistic director of the Bristol Old Vic in England for two years starting in 1985.

“In films, Rees played the Sheriff of Rottingham in Mel Brooks’ “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” in 1993 and was in “The Scorpion King” in 2002 and “The Pink Panther” in 2006.

“He is survived by his husband Rick Elice, the playwright, whose credits include the “Peter Pan” prequel “Peter and the Starcatcher,” which Rees co-directed.”

From Trevor Nunn, who directed him in Nicholas Nickleby:

“Roger was inspirational.  He had the perpetual boyishness and mischief of a Peter Pan, extraordinary wit combined with a gift for self-satire, and dauntless optimism coupled with deep-rooted belief.  All these ingredients went into his acting, and I am sure, into his directing, and gave him an aura of rare, generous spirited humanity.  He was always superb at being just ‘one of the gang’ in the company, while equally deft at leading by example, leading by commitment.  All this was sublimated in his Nicholas Nickleby, the giant success of which led him to change his life by moving to America.  I spent a magical evening with him in New York only a few months ago.  He talked of his illness – with optimism, with wit, with self-satire, and with deep-rooted belief … and once again, to be in his presence was inspirational.”

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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