Tony Award-winning producer Elizabeth Ireland McCann dies

Sep 9, 2021, 5:49 PM | Updated: 6:02 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — Tony Award-winning producer Elizabeth Ireland McCann, who helped mount an astounding array of hits on Broadway and in London, including “The Elephant Man,” “Morning’s at Seven,” “Amadeus,” “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby” and “Copenhagen,” has died. She was 90.

McCann died of cancer Thursday at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx, according to her longtime associate and friend, Kristen Luciani.

McCann was a managing producer of the Tony Awards telecast for a number of years and won nine Tonys during her career, including for the revivals of “Hair” in 2009 and “A View From the Bridge” in 1998.

McCann had a special relationship with playwright Edward Albee, producing many of his plays, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Three Tall Women” in 1994, “The Play About the Baby” in 2000, the Tony Award-winning Broadway production of “The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?” in 2002 and “Beckett/Albee” in 2003.

Speaking of McCann, Albee told Playbill in 2004: “Every once in a while, a playwright will be lucky enough to run into a producer who is crazy — who is willing to take chances, who feels that a producer’s responsibility is to find work you think really should be seen, to whom financial concern is not the main adventure — the main adventure is trying to get plays on.”

Born in New York less than a mile from Broadway, McCann’s father was a subway motorman and her mother was a housewife. Her love affair with the theater began at age 16, when her cousin took her to her first show, “Cyrano de Bergerac” with José Ferrer.

She acted in plays at Manhattanville College and worked as a production secretary. After earning a law degree at night from Fordham University in 1966 she was hired by Broadway’s theater-owning giant Nederlander Organization as managing director.

There she met Nelle Nugent, and in 1976 they formed a co-producing and co-managing partnership, leading some two dozen shows from the late 1970s to mid-1980s, including Marsha Norman’s “‘night Mother” and “The Gin Game” directed by Mike Nichols with Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn.

“I’ve always had a theory that theater is all about luck,” she told the Primary Stages Off-Broadway Oral History Project. “When you’re up, better be nervous because you’re about to swing down.”

Some of her later Broadway triumphs were Daniel Radcliffe making his Broadway debut in “Equus,” producing Michael Frayn’s “Copenhagen,” Stew’s “Passing Strange” and a 2010 revival of “Driving Miss Daisy” starring James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave.

She was part of a recent crop of women producers making a difference, like Margo Lion, Nelle Nugent, Robyn Goodman and Daryl Roth. She earned a master’s in English Literature at Columbia.

In 2002, she responded forcefully against New York Post columnist Michael Riedel, who had complained that “The Tonys aren’t about excellence anymore. They’re about ticket sales and hype and publicity.” She wrote a letter stating, “I would argue that the Tonys are indeed about excellence — excellence as of this moment and this year.”

McCann has also produced for TV, including the broadcasts of “Piaf,” “Mornings at Seven” and “Orpheus Descending.”

“Getting ahead in business means having an ability to compromise your conscience, and you get better at it the older you get,” she once told Crain’s New York Business.

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Tony Award-winning producer Elizabeth Ireland McCann dies