Jay Harris, Tony-Winning Producer and Entertainment Lawyer, Dies at 69

Obituaries   Jay Harris, Tony-Winning Producer and Entertainment Lawyer, Dies at 69
 
Jay Harris, a lawyer who took a chance on a straight play by an obscure playwright and wound up winning the Tony Award for Best Play for Side Man, died Sept. 24 after a brief battle with cancer. He was 69.

Mr. Harris, whose producing organization was called the Weissberger Theatre Group, also backed the Broadway productions of the Astaire-Rogers-inspired musical Never Gonna Dance (marking a Broadway return for the songs of Jerome Kern) in 2003 and the David Yazbek musical Dirty Rotten Scoundrels in 2005.

On those shows he was joined by several other producers and producing entities. But on Side Man, he took the lead. Warren Leight's autobiographical play about growing up the son of an unstable mother and a disconnected jazz trumpet player, was first produced by Weissberger Off-Broadway in the East Village. Reviews were remarkably strong for the show, which featured the then largely unknown actors Frank Wood and Edie Falco, and was directed by Michael Mayer. Still, there was little hope of a life beyond its limited run.

Then the Roundabout Theatre Company, at the time situated in the Criterion Center on Broadway, had one of its scheduled plays drop out. The theatre drafted Side Man to fill the slot, thus setting in motion one of the more famous Cinderella stories in recent Broadway history. After a run of a few months, the production moved to the Golden Theatre. It had a Broadway run of more than a year. In addition to the Tony, it was nominated for a Drama Desk Award and a Pulitzer.

Weissberger Theater Group's other Off-Off-Broadway productions included Down the Road, Freefall, Dates and Nuts, Where The Truth Lies, Enter The Guardsman and Tamicanfly.

Jay Harris' day job was as an entertainment attorney. Among his clients were Rent composer Jonathan Larson. Mr. Harris was also on the board of the American Theatre Wing, trustee of the Williamstown Theatre Festival and a representative of the organization on the Tony Administration and Management Committees. He also compiled and edited the book "TV Guide: The First Twenty-Five Years" and then turned the book into four NBC television specials.

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