Marianne Challis, an award-winning cabaret singer and one of Broadway's busiest and most respected vocal technicians and voice teachers, died peacefully in her sleep early Wednesday morning at her apartment and voice studio in Manhattan's theatre district.
A longtime Fairfield, Connecticut resident, Ms. Challis is survived by her husband of thirty years, Frank Root, a Broadway performer and director/choreographer, son Lonnie (a professional cellist) and daughter Abby (actress and singer). Also surviving are her sister Sue and their 97-year-old father, as well as hundreds of beloved students, colleagues, friends and family.
As one of Broadway top vocal technicians she primarily taught Broadway theater professionals. She also served as a vocal technician for organizations such as Disney Productions and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Ms. Challis was a graduate of Eastern Illinois University in Vocal Performance and Music Education. She also studied with the Opera Department of Northwestern University and at the famed Guthrie Theater. She was an Associate Professor of Vocal Studies at the University of Hartford's Hartt School and served as a consultant to their musical theater program. In CT Ms. Challis and her husband operated Broadway Boot Camp, a workshop for young actors and musical theater performers through their Southport Studio Theater program, teaching their unique blend of developmental acting and musical theater training.
Ms. Challis's early career was in the musical theater. She met her husband performing in summer stock and was the resident leading lady of many of the tri-state area's major musical houses. In her twenties, Challis toured the country in the Hermione Gingold production of "Side by Side by Sondheim", often playing opposite Bob Logan, who was to become the godfather to her children. Her final theater performances were starring as Nellie Forbush in the New York City Opera production of "South Pacific".
In her recent cabaret shows as 'America's Favorite Middle-Aged Party Girl', critics hailed her as a "performer of style and substance", "in full command of her craft and always in clarion voice." She delighted crowds at the elegant Royal Room in Palm Beach, as well as playing to sold out houses at Feinstein's at the Regency, the Laurie Beechman Theater in NYC and Playhouse on the Green in Bridgeport, CT. She recently won a Bistro Award for Outstanding Female Vocalist from BACKSTAGE. From Brian Kellow's liner notes of her live CD, "Confessions of a Middle-Aged Party Girl": "There she was: a beautiful, sexy woman with a gleaming wit and intelligence that grabbed hold of you in the very first seconds of her act. Although irreverence is a big part of Marianne's style, both on and offstage (there's no missing the fact that she's a naughty girl) it's her depth and passion and warmth that made me fall under her spell."
There will be a memorial service on Sunday, September 2nd at 1:30 PM at Southport Congregational Church, 524 Pequot Avenue, Southport, CT. A memorial celebration in New York City is planned at a later date.
Donations may be made to the following:
Marianne Challis SCHOLARSHIP FUND for Musical Theater
SOUTHPORT STUDIO THEATER
1305 Jennings Road
Fairfield, CT 06824
BROADWAY CARES/ EQUITY FIGHTS AIDS: Marianne Challis
165 West 46th Street, Suite 1300
New York, NY 10036