Jason Opsahl, a Broadway singer and actor who appeared in the original casts of Grease!, The Will Rogers Follies and The Full Monty, died Oct. 25 of cardiac arrest after a long struggle with brain cancer, according to friends and colleagues in the theatre community. Mr. Opsahl was 39.
The Savannah, GA, native moved with his family to the Orlando area where he attended Rollins College and was active in regional theatre and major theme parks. After moving to New York City in 1986, he made his Broadway debut as one of the "wranglers" in The Will Rogers Follies, a Life in Revue, alongside Jerry Mitchell, who later choreographed The Full Monty. Mr. Opsahl was an understudy for several roles in The Full Monty on Broadway during the run of the show. Friends said he was an example of a person facing health issues who was able to work, perform and remain active.
It was backstage at Will Rogers that Jerry Mitchell and his chorus pals cooked up the idea of the now-popular "Broadway Bares" strip-show fundraising event for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Mr. Opsahl was involved in all 12 annual "Bares" events as the rotation master, and often provided voiceover work for other BC/EFA events.
"He was a wonderfully spirited man who had tons of friends in the theatre community," Peter Borzotta, of BC/EFA, told Playbill On-Line. "At one time he was called 'the mayor of Broadway' because so many people knew him."
Borzotta said Mr. Opsahl was a tireless advocate of BC/EFA and its events. The blond-haired actor with a boyish face appeared opposite Rosie O'Donnell, playing Kenickie in the new Tommy Tune supervised version of Grease! He also appeared in the revival of Once Upon a Mattress on Broadway and in Captains Courageous at Manhattan Theatre Club. He was seen in the 2001 Dreamgirls benefit. His credits also include a tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Music of the Night with Melissa Manchester, and a world premiere show, Dreamland.
Mr. Opsahl was diagnosed with anaplastic astrocytoma, an aggressive type of brain cancer, while rehearsing the musical Harmony in La Jolla, CA, in 1997. Following brain surgery, he had a healthy recovery and continued to work for four years in New York. In December 2001, doctors found that the cancer had returned, and he took a break from The Full Monty and underwent another operation. A chemotherapy regimen followed, but he returned to The Full Monty through its final curtain in September.
Following the close of Monty, it was discovered the cancer had returned and another surgery took place in recent weeks, but there were complications during recovery and Mr. Opsahl died of cardiac arrest.
He is survived by parents Robert and Muriel, of Orlando, three brothers, Robert and Barton of Orlando, Craig of Long Beach, and several nieces and nephews. In lieu of flowers donations can be made to BC/EFA, 165 W. 46th St. #1300, NYC 10036. A memorial is expected in the coming months.
— By Kenneth Jones