Vinnette Carroll, a Tony Award nominee who was the first black woman to direct on Broadway, and one of the creators of the gospel sensation, Your Arms Too Short to Box With God, died in her sleep Nov. 5 at her home in Lauderhill, FL, according to friends and published reports.
Ms. Carroll, 80, an actress, playwright and director who was a longtime member of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, helmed songwriter Micki Grant's Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope on Broadway and devised, wrote and directed Your Arms Too Short to Box With God (which has a score by Alex Bradford and Micki Grant).
In 1977, Ms. Carroll was Tony Award-nominated for Best Director (Musical) and Best Book Tony Award for Your Arms Too Short.... Delores Hall won the Best Featured Actress Tony for the show, and choreographer Talley Beatty was also nominated. The show had a long life on tour and in revivals (returning to Broadway in 1980 and '82).
As a playwright, her play, Trumpets of the Lord, was seen on Broadway in 1969. As a Broadway actress, she appeared in Small War on Murray Hill (1957) and Jolly's Progress (1959).
The Sun-Sentinel of Florida reported she moved to Broward County in 1980 with the hope of starting "a multiracial theatre company similar to her ground breaking Urban Arts Theatre in New York City." Her dream was not realized, although a former church was converted to a playhouse in 1988 and the Vinnette Carroll Repertory Company did mount productions, including multicultural titles that were not well-known in Florida. The paper reported she suffered a stroke in 2000 and struggled with Alzheimer's disease.
The Sun-Sentinel indicated that Tony Thompson, the company's manager in recent years, changed the theatre's name to the Metropolitan Diversity Theatre and may move the troupe into the new African-American Research Library and Culture Center in northwest Fort Lauderdale.
Ms. Carroll was also an actress who earned a 1961 Obie Award for her work in Moon on a Rainbow Shawl, which she revived at her Fort Lauderdale playhouse in 1998. She took home an Emmy Award in 1964 for "Beyond The Blues." In 1972, Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope landed on Broadway after starting at Urban Arts. In the 1973 Tony Awards race, she was nominated for Best Director (Musical), representing the first time a woman — and the first time an African-American — was nommed in that category.
Among her appearances in films were "Alice's Restaurant," "The Reivers," "Up the Down Staircase." Her TV appearances include "All in the Family."
The Sun-Sentinel suggested it was a commitment to obscure works that caused her theatre to be less attended than other regional theatres in South Florida. "There's no theatre quite like the kind I would like to have in this community," she is quoted as saying in 1994, when she was directing a melodrama called Eden she saw 20 years earlier in a staging by Manhattan's Negro Ensemble Company. "Think of all those plays that I like that nobody else likes. I probably belong in London or someplace in Europe where you can do those things in some castle, plays that have no commercial appeal."
Among her many awards, Ms. Carroll was given a special Abbott Award from the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers.
— By Kenneth Jones