By Andrew Gans
05 Aug 2013
Magee, a composer and lyricist whose musical The Green Heart, written with Charles Busch, was staged by Manhattan Theatre Club, died Feb. 16, 2003, from cancer. Mr. Magee won the New York Outer Critics Circle James Fleetwood Award for his music and lyrics for Moliere's Scapin in 1993. He also penned music and lyrics for American Repertory Theatre's acclaimed production of Ubu Rock and wrote the music and lyrics for ART's production of Goldoni's Servant of Two Masters and Moliere's Imaginary Invalid. With his pal, comedian Lewis Black, Magee wrote the musical The Czar of Rock and Roll, which premiered at Houston's Alley Theatre 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. He was married to two-time Tony nominee Alison Fraser.
The new YouTube channel is the brainchild of Barrett Tamaren-Leddy, who is currently a Secondary English Education major and Theatre Arts minor at Westfield State University, where he has directed, produced, written and acted in numerous productions.
About the new channel, Fraser, most recently seen on the New York stage in Love Therapy, told Playbill.com, "When I was approached by Barrett about the possibility of him putting together a dedicated Rusty Magee YouTube channel, I had my doubts. Did this young man know what he was getting himself into? The hundreds of hours of archival tapes, video and audio that went back 35 years? Did he realize he would have to watch them all, and catalogue them, and make attributions, and decide what should or shouldn't be included? Well, he said, 'Bring it on!,' so I gave him access to everything! I am really excited that because of Barrett's tireless passion and enthusiasm for Rusty's artistic legacy, a whole new audience can now experience Rusty's unique vision of the world shown through his music and comedy."
How and why did you get involved with the project?
In the fall of 2008, I played the role of Dickon in Natick High School's production of The Secret Garden; this was a big deal because Alison Fraser, who earned her second Tony nomination originating Martha on Broadway, got her start performing in Natick High School musicals. So naturally, I Wikipedia'd her and discovered that she was married to a man named Rusty Magee.
It was the name that struck me first. Rusty Magee. Who is Rusty Magee? I clicked the link to his Wikipedia page. After reading a few lines, I asked myself, "Why the hell haven't I heard of Rusty Magee before?"
The last thing I noticed on the page made me frown: (Aug. 6, 1955 – Feb. 16, 2003). I was now asking myself a different question: Who was Rusty Magee? I needed to find out more about this man with the funny name and the impressive resume.
Somehow, I was able to get my hands on a copy of this kick-ass CD called "Sweet Appreciation: Rusty Magee Live at the West Bank Cafe," a surprise party/performance hosted by comedian Lewis Black featuring some of Broadway's finest voices such as Rebecca Luker, Mary Testa and Alison Fraser. The CD's finale is one of the most incredible impromptu performances by Rusty Magee.
I contacted Alison Fraser via e-mail to tell her how much I liked the CD and to ask where I could find more information about Rusty Magee's life and work. Not only did I receive a very gracious response, Ms. Fraser also gave me unprecedented access to an archival treasure trove. I'm talking hours and hours of footage filmed live at the West Bank Cafe Downstairs Theatre Bar where larger-than-life characters like Pattie Darcy, Nancy Giles, Lewis Black, John Bowman and, of course, Rusty Magee flooded the stage to make themselves heard. The West Bank became more than a basement bar; it was a breeding ground for scary genius talent way ahead of its time.
As years went by, Rusty Magee never faded from my mind. I can't believe it took me until 2013 to come up with the idea, but once it hit me, I got right to work creating this channel. It has been ten years since Rusty Magee passed away, and during that time, the Internet has become such a vital tool for communication. Artists can become superstars overnight without even leaving their bedroom. I think Rusty would have had a field day with sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. However, because he never lived to experience any of these great resources, I wanted to increase his online presence, thus further preserving his legacy.
What were the challenges of creating the channel?
Because Alison provided me with such a deep well of material to draw from, there were very few challenges. I never even had to go through the process of deciding which videos to include or omit because every minute of footage is innovative comedy gold.
What will the website offer?
Official Rusty Magee will offer plenty nostalgia for fans and friends who remember listening to Rusty's music, working alongside him or even seeing him perform live at the West Bank Cafe. For those who are less familiar with Magee's work, you will find yourself plunging headfirst into a zany world created by a man who truly embodied the phrase, "one of a kind."
The West Bank material is only a small portion. As an accomplished composer/lyricist for musicals, Magee's work is highly original. He incorporated every genre of music, wrote for every age group and no two projects were ever the same. There are so many hidden gems. I mean, have you heard the score for The Green Heart, The Czar of Rock and Roll or UBU ROCK lately? Brilliant. How about Flurry Tale, The Irish...and How They Got That Way, 1919: A Baseball Opera or all that fantastic work Rusty did with Moonwork on their musical adaptations of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream and What You Will? What about his original songs like "New York Romance," "Winter Journey" or "Don't You Go And Get Famous"?
Rusty Magee was a phenomenal storyteller unlike any other, and his stories beg to be heard. When you watch Rusty perform, he jumps right off the screen and into your soul, making you laugh at all of life's absurdities without losing your fondness for them.
By the way, my girlfriend Lorraine Magee (Rusty's niece) has suggested making the entire Rusty Magee Songbook available online, so people can access sheet music from Rusty Magee's huge catalogue of songs!
What are your hopes for the channel?
When I think of the unsung heroes of music and comedy, names like Anthony Newley, Danny Kaye and Rusty Magee come to mind. I am baffled that more people aren't familiar with their work. Up until now, Rusty's music has been kept alive mainly through word of mouth. Therefore, my hope is that this channel helps spread his music online the way it has been spread verbally: with passion from listeners to share it with friends.