Michael McGrath, Tony Winner and ‘Spamalot’ Veteran, Dies at 65

Michael McGrath, Tony Winner and ‘Spamalot’ Veteran, Dies at 65

Michael McGrath, who won a Tony Award in 2012 for his work in the musical “Nice Work if You Can Get It” and was a regular on Broadway, Off Broadway and regional stages, known especially for comedic roles and for his ability to conjure the likes of Groucho Marx, George M. Cohan and Jackie Gleason, died on Thursday at his home in Bloomfield, N.J. He was 65.

His family announced the death through the publicist Lisa Goldberg. No cause was provided.

Mr. McGrath was one of those stage actors who might rarely be recognized on the street yet worked steadily for decades, drawing good notices throughout. He did much of his early work at Theater by the Sea in Matunuck, R.I., where he appeared regularly from 1977 to 1991, including in the title role of a 1989 production of “George M!,” the musical about Cohan, the famed song-and-dance man.

“Exuding confidence and manic energy,” Michael Burlingame wrote in a review in The Day of New London, Conn., “McGrath struts and crows like a bantam rooster.”

By the late 1980s he was appearing in New York shows, including “Forbidden Christmas,” a 1991 holiday edition of the long-running parody revue “Forbidden Broadway”; in one sketch he was Luciano Pavarotti, “wearing,” as Mel Gussow wrote in a review in The New York Times, “a white shirt as big as a bedsheet.”

A year later he made his Broadway debut in the ensemble of “My Favorite Year,” a backstage musical based on the 1982 movie about the golden age of television. That show closed after a month, but it was the start of regular Broadway work for Mr. McGrath — sometimes as an understudy or standby player, sometimes in featured roles.

He played three different parts in “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” the hit 2005 musical based on “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” including Patsy, the servant who banged coconuts together to imitate the sound of a galloping horse. His performance earned him a Tony nomination for best featured actor in a musical.

His Broadway run continued with “Is He Dead?” (2007), “Memphis” (2009) and “Born Yesterday” (2011). Then, in 2012, came his Tony-winning turn in “Nice Work if You Can Get It,” a musical that showcased the songs of George and Ira Gershwin. Matthew Broderick and Kelli O’Hara got most of the attention in the lead roles, but it was Mr. McGrath (as a bootlegger) and Judy Kaye (as a temperance leader) who earned the show’s two Tonys, for best actor and actress in a featured role in a musical.

More recently on Broadway, Mr. McGrath was in “She Loves Me” (2016) and “Tootsie” (2019), among other shows. In between Broadway roles, he worked Off Broadway and in regional houses. He also continued to perform in productions of “Forbidden Broadway” and, in 1996, a movie-themed offshoot, “Forbidden Hollywood,” in which he imitated both John Travolta’s character in “Pulp Fiction” and Tom Hanks’s Forrest Gump.

That same year, he tapped his inner Groucho in “The Cocoanuts,” a revival of an ancient Marx Brothers show mounted at the American Jewish Theater in Manhattan. Mr. McGrath had always been known for doing a bit of ad-libbing from time to time. (“It’s gotten me in trouble with authors,” he acknowledged in a 1996 interview with The Times. “A lot of them don’t like you going off the script.”) But in “The Cocoanuts,” ad-libs, Groucho style, were expected.

“There are a lot of guys who do better Grouchos,” Mr. McGrath told The Times, “but Groucho and I share the same sense of humor, so I find it very easy to ad-lib as him. I wouldn’t say my timing is as great, but we’re in the same ballpark.”

He brought another famed figure back to life in 2017, when he played Ralph Kramden, Jackie Gleason’s role, in a musical version of “The Honeymooners” at Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey.

If Mr. McGrath wasn’t an A-list star, he sometimes went on in place of one. On Broadway he understudied Martin Short twice, in “The Goodbye Girl” in 1993 and “Little Me” in 1998. A Times reporter was in the audience of “Little Me” in December 1998 when Mr. McGrath stepped in for Mr. Short, who had a cold. Many might have been disappointed at first not to be seeing Mr. Short, but by the show’s end, The Times reported, the theatergoers “gave Mr. McGrath the special ovation for people who leap into impossible situations full throttle and soar.”

“They rose to their feet, screaming, ‘Bravo! Bravo!’”

Michael McGrath was born on Sept. 25, 1957, in Worcester, Mass. After graduating from high school there, he studied briefly at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee, but he left after three months to start his acting career.

Among his fellow players in the “Forbidden Broadway” series was Toni Di Buono. In a 1988 version of the show, he parodied Joel Grey’s “Cabaret” character; she did the same for Patti LuPone, belting out “I Get a Kick Out of Me.” Ms. Di Buono and Mr. McGrath later married.

She survives him, as does their daughter, Katie Claire McGrath.

In a 2012 interview with The Cape Codder of Massachusetts, Mr. McGrath talked about Cookie, the character he played in his Tony-winning turn in “Nice Work if You Can Get It.”

“There is a little bit of Gleason in everything I do,” he said. “For Cookie, I’ve also incorporated elements of Groucho Marx, Moe Howard of the Three Stooges, Skip Mahoney from the Bowery Boys, and even a little Bugs Bunny.”

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