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Williamstown Theatre Performers Remember Late Artistic Director

Jim Cooper
Associated Press
Roger Rees

Roger Rees, a Tony award-winning actor and former artistic director of Williamstown Theatre Festival, died Friday at 71.Those who knew and worked with Roger Rees agree that he was grand. Rees performed that song in the role of Anton Schell in The Visit on Broadway, which ended its run in June. Rees had left the show in May for medical reasons. The Visit spent 2014 at the Williamstown Theatre Festival as Rees co-starred with Chita Rivera. She spoke about working with Rees during an interview with WAMC’s The Roundtable last year.

“He’s so much fun to be with,” Rivera said. “He’s passionate. We get to those scenes where we’re confronting each other…it’s very easy to tell the story looking into his eyes. He is that person that told that lie those years ago and connived and ruined her life.”

Born in Wales, Rees started his acting career with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the mid-1970s where he had non-speaking roles for about three years. In the 1980s he would win an Olivier Award and a Tony Award as the title role in the original production of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. When it was adapted for television, Rees was nominated for an Emmy. Rees also played Robin Colcord, an English multi-millionaire in the popular sitcom Cheers.

He also played the British ambassador Lord John Marbury on the NBC drama The West Wing. From 2004 to 2007, Rees served as artistic director of Williamstown Theatre Festival. Becky Ann Baker knew Rees before he took over at Williamstown and acted in two of Rees’ seasons there.

“Roger’s whole tenure at the [Williamstown] theatre was probably one of the most ambitious and creative several years that the festival ever had,” Baker said. “I don’t think anybody thought that what he could get done was possible. Yet it was and I think the audiences loved it.”

Baker says Rees was filled with more joy than anyone she ever met, which was evident on stage or running into him in Manhattan.

“He literally was one of those people that was just truly having a wonderful life,” Baker said. “He just spread that joy everywhere. I know a lot of people always say that when someone is being remembered, but I don’t know anyone that I could really say that about the way I do Roger.”

Rees continued to be active in television and theatre throughout his life. Last year the Screen Actors Guild Foundation recorded a conversation with Rees moderated by his husband and writer Rick Elice.

“The thing about being an actor unlike a ballet dance or soccer player/football player, you don’t stop when you’re 28,” Rees said. “You can keep on going. You can start off as Mamillius in The Winter’s Tale and you can finish up as the gravedigger in Hamlet. It’s a wonderful, wonderful life if you can keep at it.”

Broadway theaters will dim their marquee lights for one minute at 7:45 Wednesday night in memory of Rees.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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