February 24, 2003

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Composer-Lyricist Rusty Magee, Who Gave The Green Heart Its Beat, Dead at 47

By Kenneth Jones
18 Feb 2003

Benjamin Rush "Rusty" Magee, a composer and lyricist whose musical, The Green Heart, written with Charles Busch, was staged by Manhattan Theatre Club, died Feb. 16 in New York City after a battle with cancer.

Mr. Magee, who was married to the Tony Award-nominated actress, Alison Fraser, won the New York Outer Critics' Circle James Fleetwood Award for his music and lyrics for Moliere's Scapin in 1993. The adaptation has been produced at CSC Repertory Theatre, Yale Repertory Theatre, the Intiman in Seattle, the Court in Chicago and American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. He was 47 years old and also leaves behind a young son, Nathaniel.

The Green Heart, with book by Charles Busch, is published by Samuel French. His children's Christmas opera, Flurry Tale, with libretto by Billy Aronson, is being developed by American Opera Projects in New York City. Mr. Magee penned music and lyrics for American Repertory Theatre's acclaimed production of Ubu Rock, a new translation and adaptation of Jarre's Ubu Roi. He also wrote the music and lyrics for ART's production of Goldoni's Servant Of Two Masters and Moliere's Imaginary Invalid. Scapin, Servant, Invalid and Ubu Rock were all collaborations with director-adaptor Andrei Belgrader and translator-adaptor Shelley Berc.

Mr. Magee was also a comedian. With his pal, comedian Lewis Black, he wrote the musical, The Czar of Rock and Roll, which premiered at Houston's Alley Theater in 1990. He also arranged and performed the music for the Tony Award-winning production of The House Of Blue Leaves seen at Lincoln Center and on Broadway and PBS.

Mr. Magee co-produced and wrote music for hundreds of one-act plays as musical director and co-founder with Lewis Black and Rand Foerster of Steve Olsen's West Bank Cafe Downstairs Theatre Bar in New York City.

As an actor, Mr. Magee appeared in the film "Hannah and Her Sisters" and appeared on stage in The Irish...And How They Got That Way at the Irish Repertory Theatre in New York City and the Wilbur Theatre in Boston. He was music director of the Irish Repertory Theatre in Manhattan and continued in that role even when he became ill. His music and songs were also heard in film and TV projects.

His last musical, 19th Street Shuffle, co-written with Billy Aronson, will be finished with additional material by Lynn Shankel under the direction of Sheryl Kaller. His songs have been recorded by such theatre artists as Rebecca Luker and Mary Testa (a live tribute album called "Sweet Appreciation," with actor-friends including Testa and Luker, was released in 2002). Fraser performed his cabaret anthem, "New York Romance," at Carnegie Hall. Mr. Magee was a member of Actors' Equity, SAG, AFTRA, ASCAP, The Dramatists Guild and the Ensemble Studio Theatre.

He is also survived by his mother, Bettie Morris Magee, of Natick, MA, his two younger brothers, Kenneth Magee of Portland, OR, and James Magee also of Natick, MA.

Mr. Magee was born in Washington, DC, raised in Ann Arbor, MI, and Massachusetts and graduated Philips Exeter and Brown University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in music. He was awarded an honorary Master of Fine Arts from the Yale School of Drama after working there for three years as musical consultant for the Yale Repertory Theater and the Yale Drama School. He was an avid Detroit Tigers fan, which inspired his musical, 1919: A Baseball Opera.

In 2000, Mr. Magee was awarded the "Coming Up Taller" Humanitarian Award from First Lady Hilary Rodham Clinton at the White House for his work at the 52nd St. Project, a theatre Company in Hell's Kitchen in Manhattan where professionals do theatre outreach with local children.

A memorial service and celebration of Mr. Magee's life and work is planned for New York City later this spring.





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