Janet Hayes Walker, founder and producing director of York Theatre Company, died Feb. 20 after a long battle with cancer. She was 72.
Billed as Janet Hayes, Walker appeared on Broadway in a number of shows, including the original productions of Damn Yankees, Plain and Fancy, The Golden Apple, The Music Man, Camelot and Anyone Can Whistle. When the latter ended its abbreviated run in 1964, she retired from acting and, except for occasion appearances in regional theatres, devoted herself to taking care of her family.
That lasted five years. The "theatre bug" resurfaced, and she founded the York Theatre Company at the Church of the Heavenly Rest in NYC. It became a popular launching pad for several outstanding musical revivals, notably some composed by the songwriter of Anyone Can Whistle, Stephen Sondheim.
Her resurrections of his Pacific Overtures and Sweeney Todd (in an intimate chamber version affectionately nicknamed "Teeny Todd") went extra innings before their York liftoffs--into extended engagements at Off-Broadway's Promenade and Broadway's Circle in the Square, respectively. She also revived his Company, A Little Night Music, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and, more recently, the Lucille Lortel Award-winning Merrily We Roll Along.
In addition, the York Theatre Company produced under her aegis acclaimed productions of The Baker's Wife, Colette Collage, The Grass Harp, Lost in the Stars and the Outer Critics Circle Award-winning Carnival. Walker is survived by her husband, Charles Dodsley Walker, and two children, Peter Hayes Walker and Susan Walker Wyss, and three grandchildren.
Memorial services will be held at Trinity Episcopal Church, Southport, CT at 1 PM Feb. 25 and at the Church of the Heavenly Rest, Fifth Avenue at 90th St. in NY at 1 PM Feb. 27. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the York Theatre Company, Inc. 619 Lexington Ave., NYC 20022, where a memorial fund is being created in her honor.
-- By Harry Haun