The Boston theater community was stunned to learn of the passing of Tony Award-winning actor, Michael McGrath. He was 65 and died suddenly at his New Jersey home last Thursday (Sept. 14), a few days short of his birthday. He leaves his wife of 30 years, actress Toni DiBuono, and their daughter, actress Katie Claire McGrath.
In announcing Michael’s death, his rep described the celebrated Broadway star as “a Red Sox fanatic, bourbon connoisseur, devoted husband and father, and friend to anyone who met him.”
Michael McGrath at Fenway Park. Credit: Jeremy Jordan’s Facebook
Born in Worcester, Michael was beloved by Boston audiences for his long run in “Forbidden Broadway” at the Park Plaza Hotel’s Terrace Room in the 1980s. The cast included Toni, who would later become his wife. He long maintained his local connections and continued to appear in New England whenever he had the opportunity, from Rhode Island’s Theater-By-The-Sea to Worcester’s Foothills Theatre.
I first met him, briefly, after one of those Boston “Forbidden Broadway” performances when we were introduced by a mutual friend. Michael and Toni were very gracious to sit with our table of friends and have a drink after the show. He and Toni were outstanding in that evening of musical spoofs, particularly the energetic “Les Miserables” section.
During the Boston run, he was still living in Worcester, commuting nightly to the hotel. While some believe Michael and Toni first met during that show, they actually met earlier in school, although Toni was a couple of years ahead of him. When we spoke in 2014, he told me that he and Toni were purely “co-workers before we became boyfriend and girlfriend.”
Michael would go on to create a career as one of Broadway’s most popular and honored character actors. His many credits include “Plaza Suite,” “She Loves Me,” “The Goodbye Girl,” “Memphis,” “Little Me,” “Born Yesterday,” “On The Twentieth Century,” “Tootsie,” and of course “Spamalot” where, as the original Patsy, trusted sidekick to King Arthur, he introduced the song “Always Look On The Bright Side of Life” to Broadway audiences. He was nominated for a Tony for “Spamalot” but would receive the coveted award for his work in the Gershwin musical, “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” opposite Kelli O’Hara and Matthew Broderick.
A three-time Drama Desk Award nominee, an Outer Critics Circle nominee, and a Theatre World Award winner, he was also a popular presence onstage in New York City Center Encores! series, starring in “Du Barry Was a Lady,” “The Boys From Syracuse” and “Follies.”
One of his final local appearances was in the pre-Broadway run of “Finding Neverland” at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge. Directed by Diane Paulus, the show detailed how J. M. Barrie’s was inspired to write “Peter Pan.” Michael was great as a blustering Broadway theater producer opposite Jeremy Jordan as Barrie. Sadly, neither he nor Jordan remained with the show when it was extensively revised for New York.
Among countless tributes posted this week, Jeremy Jordan commented, “I’m heartbroken to hear of Michael's passing. What an incredibly kind and talented human being. I don't know how I could have made it through the trials of “Finding Neverland” without him. An incredibly inventive artist whose humor knew no bounds. My favorite moment with him, though, was when we went to a Red Sox/Yankees game together in Boston. He was like a little kid again, and even when his team lost, that smile never left his face.”
I interviewed Michael in 2014 for a Boston Irish Reporter feature when he was appearing at The Cape Playhouse in “The Odd Couple.” Here’s a look at that conversation.