Benjamin Mordecai, Broadway Producer Who Championed August Wilson's Works, Dead at 60

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09 May 2005

Benjamin Mordecai III, the Broadway producer associated with some of the most esteemed American plays of the last 25 years, died May 8 in New Haven, CT, after a long illness, the press office of Boneau/Bryan-Brown confirmed.

Mr. Mordecai, a New York City native, was 60.

Currently represented on Broadway by the musical Brooklyn, Mr. Mordecai has been linked with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson over the years, including having an interest in the new Wilson play, Radio Golf, currently receiving its world premiere at Yale Repertory Theatre.

Mr. Mordecai had been Associate Dean of the Yale School of Drama where, in addition to teaching and chairing the school's graduate management program, he was responsible for financial aid and recruitment. From 1982 to 1993, he was managing director of Yale Repertory Theatre.

"Ben served Yale School of Drama and Yale Repertory Theatre with distinction and deep personal commitment for 23 years, as managing director, associate dean, and particularly as chair of the theatre managment program," said James Bundy, dean of Yale School of Drama and artistic director of Yale Repertory Theatre. "He will be sorely missed."



He produced 10 of August Wilson's plays on Broadway, Off-Broadway, regionally and in London's West End. As managing director of Yale Repertory Theatre, Mr. Mordecai transferred nine plays from Yale to Broadway including five plays by August Wilson, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (1984-1985, Tony Award nomination for Best Play), Fences (1987-1988, Tony winner for Best Play and 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner), Joe Turner's Come and Gone (1988, Tony nomination for Best Play), The Piano Lesson (1990-1991, Tony nomination for Best Play and 1990 Pulitzer Prize winner) and Two Trains Running (1992, Tony nomination for Best Play and 1992 Pulitzer Prize nominee).

As executive director of Sageworks, Mr. Mordecai produced Wilson's Seven Guitars (1996, Tony nomination for Best Play and 1995 Pulitzer Prize nominee), King Hedley II (2001, Tony nomination for Best Play and 2000 Pulitzer Prize nominee) and a revival of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (2003).

Mr. Mordecai also produced Wilson's Jitney, at the Union Square Theatre in the fall of 2000 and at London's Royal National Theatre. It received the Olivier Award for Best New Play.

In addition to his Tonys and the Olivier Award, Mr. Mordecai has received numerous awards including the first Robert Whitehead Award for outstanding commercial producing, two NAACP Theatre Awards for producing The Piano Lesson and Two Trains Running and a 1998 Special Achievement Award from the New England Theatre Conference.

He was also a founder, and for 11 years the producing director, of the Indiana Repertory Theatre. Mr. Mordecai served on the board of the Classic Stage Company.

In 1992, Mr. Mordecai founded the theatrical producing and management firm, Benjamin Mordecai Productions, Inc. and was the managing partner of Producers Four, a theatrical development and producing company operating in the United States and Europe. Recent Producers Four productions include Hitchcock Blonde in London and Sixteen Wounded on Broadway.

In the last two seasons, Mr. Mordecai produced on Broadway the revival of Flower Drum Song , the new play Sixteen Wounded and in 1998 David Henry Hwang's Golden Child. Off-Broadway, he produced Thunder Knocking on the Door and Endpapers .

He also produced Anna Deveare Smith's Twilight: Los Angeles and was executive producer of Angels in America. He presented Lanford Wilson's Redwood Curtain and was associate producer of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Kentucky Cycle.

He also produced three national tours, Gate of Heaven, Donald Byrd's The Harlem Nutcracker for three seasons and the tour of Flower Drum Song. In addition to transferring five August Wilson plays from Yale to Broadway, Mr. Mordecai transferred A Walk In The Woods, Blood Knot and the renowned Eugene O'Neill Centennial productions of Long Day's Journey Into Night and Ah, Wilderness! with Jason Robards and Colleen Dewhurst.

Over the past 20 years, Mr. Mordecai has been active with theatre in Russia and Eastern Europe. In 1989, he was general manager for the Broadway production of A Walk In The Woods in Moscow and Vilnius, Lithuania. He was president of the American Theatre Exchange Initiative, an organization dedicated to the continued interchange between the American and Russian theatre communities. In 1998, Mr. Mordecai produced the centennial tour of the Moscow Art Theatre, the classic company's first official visit to America in 75 years, with their production of Chekhov's Three Sisters.

Mr. Mordecai is survived by his wife Sherry Lynn Morley Mordecai and daughter Rachel Elizabeth Mordecai.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent to the Benjamin Mordecai Fund at Yale School of Drama (P.O. Box #208244, New Haven, CT 06520). A memorial service is being planned for the fall.