While most people probably recognize her as Mama from Chicago's record-breaking revival run, I have followed her career for years. Each and every time she was in a show I saw, I always had the same reactions: boy, is she a presence, and why isn't she a huge star? Well, she wasn't a giant star, but she was what many people wish they were - a career actress. And she was at home not only on stage, but on TV and films, too. She was a regular on Happy Days, The Bob Newhart Show and even headed her own series, The Goodtime Girls and Who's Watching the Kids?.
But you are probably here because of your affinity for theatre, and she had quite a career on the boards! She made her Broadway debut in Hello, Dolly! with Ethel Merman, went toe-to-toe with Vanessa Redgrave in the controversial and scorching revival of Orpheus Descending, and shared the stage with such legends as Georgia Brown (Roza), Teresa Stratas, Larry Kert, Terrence Mann and Judy Kuhn (Rags), and Topol (Fiddler on the Roof). For all the legends and A-list talent she worked with, I'll bet that the pleasure was all theirs.
As much as I don't care for the show Annie, I bet she was a terrific Miss Hannigan, and I regret not seeing her in it. I was fortunate enough to have seen her on Broadway in Chicago and the 1994 revival of Grease! She was Tony nominated for both. In the case of Grease! that speaks to the level of her talent. The revival was roundly vilified by the press, and she still shone like the gem that she was. Even more telling is that she was nominated for a non-singing role in a musical!
Ms. Lewis passed away on December 21.