By Robert Simonson
05 Sep 2012
Mr. Marre accumulated a host of directing credits over his long career, including the original productions of the musical Kismet, and Jerry Herman's first Broadway show, Milk and Honey. But it was Man of La Mancha, a tuneful telling of "Don Quixote," that came to define his career. He directed the New York premiere, which began far Off-Broadway at the ANTA Washington Square Theatre, in 1965, and eventually moved to three different Broadway theatres, before it closed in 1972. He won a Tony Award as Best Director of a Musical for his work. (The Tonys then considered the ANTA a Broadway house.) He then went to direct three Broadway revivals of the show, in 1972, 1977 and 1992, and numerous national and international productions.
The show began as a television drama called "I, Don Quixote," written by playwright Dale Wasserman. It was Mr. Marre who suggested the show be turned into a musical. Wasserman fashioned a story in which Cervantes, waiting in a prison cell to be tried by the Spanish Inquisition, tells his fellow inmates the story of Don Quixote. The show's simple storytelling and idealistic, yet charmingly foolish hero struck a chord with audiences, rendering the show an oft-revived classic, and transforming its central song, "The Impossible Dream," into a musical theatre anthem. Mr. Marre's wife, actress Joan Diener, played the lead female role of tavern wench Aldonza.
Albert Marre was born on Sept. 25, 1925, in New York City. He began his theatre career as an actor, making his Broadway debut as both performer and associate director in 1950 in The Relapse. One year later, he was director alone, on The Little Blue Light.
In 1948, Mr. Marre was one of the co-founders of the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, MA, which was one of the country's first classical repertory companies. In 1953, he was hired by Lincoln Kirstein to be the first artistic director of the New York City Drama Company at City Center, where he staged Love's Labour's Lost, The Merchant of Venice and Shaw's Misalliance, all in 1953.
Kismet came next, handing him a hit production, a 1954 Donaldson Award for Best Director of a Musical, and a new wife in Diener, who starred. Diener and Marre were wed in 1956 and had two children. They remained married until her death in 2006.
A Tony nomination came for his work on The Chalk Garden in 1955. The following year, he directed Helen Hayes in Anouilh's Time Remembered. "In his direction," wrote Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times,"Albert Marre has ingeniously combined loveliness and drollery, piling magnificence so high that it becomes funny."
In 1958, he directed At the Grand, a musical version of Vicki Baum's 1930 novel "Grand Hotel," in Los Angeles. The show never reached New York. However, a revamped version of the property, called Grand Hotel, and directed by Tommy Tune, landed on Broadway more than 30 years later.
Mr. Marre introduced Broadway audiences to composer Jerry Herman in 1961, when he staged Herman's tale of the birth of Israel, Milk and Honey. It ran for a year-and-a-half. Other productions from this period included the musical The Conquering Hero, John Patrick's Good as Gold, a revival of Shaw's Too True to Be Good and the farces A Rainy Day in Newark and Never Live Over a Pretzel Factory. He wrote the book for the 1970 musical Cry for Us All and the 1975 musical Home Sweet Homer. Both starred Diener, were short-lived, and had scores by Mitch Leigh. His final non-La Mancha Broadway credit was the musical Chu Chem in 1989.
Mr. Marre is survived by his second wife, Mimi Turque.