Liz McCann, a groundbreaking Broadway producer who, as one of the first and most successful women to achieve a prominent leadership role in the theater industry – a term she hated, preferring “theater community” — died Thursday of cancer at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx. She was 90.
Her death was announced by her longtime associate and friend Kristen Luciani.
Elizabeth Ireland McCann — known throughout the Broadway community simply as Liz — started her career in theater as a production assistant and manager with Proscenium Productions at the Cherry Lane Theatre in the 1950s. In 1955, the company would be the first Off Broadway theater to win a Special Tony Award for its seminal productions of The Way of the World and Thieves’ Carnival.
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Following a series of short-term theater jobs, McCann, who had acted in plays during her student years at Manhattanville College, completed a law degree at Fordham University. She later earned a Master’s in English Literature at Columbia University, with the intention of becoming a drama teacher.
By 1967, McCann had moved on to Broadway, where she was hired as Managing Director by theater owner James Nederlander. Soon, she and business partner Nelle Nugent created the general management and production company McCann & Nugent.
What followed for McCann & Nugent was a remarkable string of Tony Award-winning productions: Dracula (1979), The Elephant Man (1979), Morning’s at Seven (1980), Amadeus (1980) and 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 End’s Well, along with Much Ado About Nothing and Cyrano de Bergerac starring Derek Jacobi.
As General Managers, McCann & Nugent managed the Broadway productions of The 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, 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, Passing Strange, My Fat Friend and Shakespeare for My Father (the latter two starring Lynn Redgrave), Nick & Nora, Orpheus Descending starring Vanessa Redgrave and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
McCann also produced extensively Off-Broadway, including The Lady with the Clarinet and Painting Churches, both produced with Nugent. She served as Executive Producer of the Tony Awards for several years and was General Manager of the Big Apple Circus.
Born on Manhattan’s West Side, McCann would, in 1993, begin what would be the most rewarding collaboration of her later years with the production of Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Three Tall Women. The two reunited with the 2002 Tony Award-winning The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? and the 2005 revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? starring Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin, and the Off-Broadway hits The Play About the Baby and Beckett/Albee.
Having partnered with Daryl Roth on the Albee productions, the two co-produced Paula Vogel’s play Indecent on Broadway in 2018 and most recently joined Robert Fox in producing Martin McDonagh’s Hangmen, which closed prior to opening on Broadway due to the Covid pandemic shutdown.
Funeral arrangements are being made. A mass will take place at St. Paul the Apostle on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
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