Jilline Ringle, Vivacious Philly Actress-Singer Who Did It Her Way, Dead at 40

Obituaries   Jilline Ringle, Vivacious Philly Actress-Singer Who Did It Her Way, Dead at 40 Jilline Ringle, an actress-singer who was a bright spot in theatres and cabarets in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Cape May, NJ, died Feb. 28 at age 40, after an illness, friends and colleagues told Playbill.com.
Jilline Ringle in Mondo Mangia.
Jilline Ringle in Mondo Mangia. Photo by Lanny Nagler

In addition to performing plays and musicals, for which she was Barrymore Award-nominated three times in Philadelphia, Ms. Ringle created her own concept cabaret shows, including the latest, Shut Up and Kiss Me, a musical revue honoring femme fatales of the '50s. The revue was expected to be performed at City Theatre in Pittsburgh in the 2005-06 season, and at Philadelphia's Arden Theatre Company in spring.

Friends said Ms. Ringle had recently been cast as Josie — "her dream role," they said — in a Florida production of A Moon for the Misbegotten, but had to withdraw when a checkup revealed a recurrence of cancer, which she had fought so aggressively in recent years. She entered a northern New Jersey hospital in recent days, developed pneumonia on Sunday and died Monday.

City Theatre in Pittsburgh was one of her many resident-theatre homes. She was also active with Arden Theatre Company and 1812 Productions, both in Philly. For 1812, she appeared in Michael Ogborn's satiric theatre revue, Box Office of the Damned and performed the autobiographical Mondo Mangia. She was Barrymore-nominated for both shows.

"She was a uniquely gifted performer, a force of nature and a good friend – just an extraordinary person," City Theatre artistic director Tracy Brigden told Playbill.com. "She will be deeply missed by friends, colleagues and fans – here in Pittsburgh and across the country."

She received a Barrymore nomination for Merrily We Roll Along, playing the resilient, brilliant, big-hearted Mary at the Arden Theatre. The role was a perfect fit for her, Arden producing artistic director Terrence J. Nolen told Playbill.com. "She was so young, but Jilline was a life force — smart and funny, a very wise person who seemed to know something about everything," Nolen said. "Only recently, when she was doing Jungle Book at Arden, which had actors of all ages, she began to talk about her responsibility to the next generation of theatre artists…passing on a work ethic and a love of theatre."

As a young Bryn Mawr theatre graduate, she came to audition for Arden in 1988, the troupe's first year. From the start, she showed she was a character: She took a Magic Marker to her photocopied headshot and handed it in.

"She had flaming orange hair and red lips," Nolen said. "She wasn't right for what we were doing, but we hired Jilline and she ended up running the light board for our first show. The next year, we were doing Godspell and I built the show around her."

She would later do dramturg and costume work for Arden and appeared in 10 shows there, growing up with the company and becoming a major personality in the Philadelphia theatre community. She even served as host of the Barrymore Awards one year.

When she was cast in Arden's Café Puttanesca in 2003, she had only recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. During the creation of the show she went through arduous chemotherapy and pushed herself to be as creative as possible in the zesty Ogborn-Nolen musical show about jaded prostitutes who swap (and sing) war stories. "She dragged herself into rehearsals, she refused to succumb, she never missed a performance," Nolen said.

Ms. Ringle recreated her part when Café Puttanesca was revised and remounted at City Theatre in Pittsburgh. She was the only Philly cast member retained for the Pittsburgh run.

Her original cabaret shows included Mondo Mangia, a warm, funny and nostalgic memoir of growing up in an Italian Catholic family, filled with songs and stories about her mother and grandmother. In the pungent show, Ms. Ringle cooked a pasta dish onstage while she performed and shared the dish with the audience.

City Theatre first presented the show in 2001 (her first appearance in Pittsburgh, according to the troupe), and audiences ate it up — literally. The hit was invited back to City Theatre for another two-month run in 2002 and again in 2004.

At City Theatre she also performed her one-woman show La Dolce Vita: Movie Songs of the 1960s.

A favorite in her native Philadelphia, Ms. Ringle performed in Godspell, Side by Side by Sondheim and headlined as Mae West in 1812's production of Vaudeville for the Holidays. In addition to her Barrymore nominations, she was the recipient of Philadelphia City Paper's "Philly's Coolest Actress" award.

Many of her summers were spent at the Chalfonte Hotel in Cape May, NJ, where she developed her cabaret style. Other original works by Jilline Ringle included For Me – Formidable: French Made Easy and Come Fly With Me.

Survivors include her father, Charles Ringle and two brothers. Her mother predeceased her.

(left to right) Lenora Nemetz, Megan Hilty, Daniel Krell and Jilline Ringle
(left to right) Lenora Nemetz, Megan Hilty, Daniel Krell and Jilline Ringle Photo by Ric Evans