Tony-win­ning ac­tor also had roles in ‘Cheers,’ ‘West Wing’

The Washington Post Sunday - - OBITUARIES -

Roger Rees, the lanky Tony Award-win­ning ac­tor and di­rec­tor who made his mark on­stage as Ni­cholas Nick­leby in a leg­en­dar­ily de­mand­ing pro­duc­tion and be­came a main­stay on Broad­way play­ing Gomez in “The Addams Fam­ily” and Chita Rivera’s doomed lover in “The Visit,” died July 10 in New York. He was 71.

His rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Rick Mi­ra­mon­tez, con­firmed the death. Mr. Rees had abruptly left “The Visit” in late May to un­dergo a med­i­cal pro­ce­dure.

Mr. Rees, who was born in Wales, played the snob­bish Robin Col­cord on TV’s “Cheers” in the early 1990s and the Bri­tish am­bas­sador, Lord John Mar­bury, in “The West Wing” in the early 2000s. Other re­cent TV cred­its in­clude “Ele­men­tary” and “The Good Wife.”

But he was prob­a­bly best known play­ing the ti­tle char­ac­ter in the Royal Shake­speare Co.’s orig­i­nal eight-hour pro­duc­tion of Charles Dick­ens’ “The Life and Ad­ven­tures of Ni­cholas Nick­leby” in Eng­land and then on Broad­way in the early 1980s. He won an Olivier Award and then a Tony. When it was adapted to TV in 1982, he earned an Emmy Award nom­i­na­tion.

Re­view­ing the Broad­way pro­duc­tion in 1981, New York Times theater critic Frank Rich lauded Mr. Rees for bring­ing “so much flar­ing sen­si­tiv­ity and in­tel­li­gence that he takes the goo out of the young man’s right­eous­ness.” He earned two fur­ther Tony nom­i­na­tions in 1995 for “In­dis­cre­tions” and in 2012 for co-di­rect­ing “Peter and the Star­catcher,” a Peter Pan pre­quel. Other Broad­way roles were in “The Winslow Boy,” “Un­cle Vanya,” “The Re­hearsal,” “The Red Shoes” and “Lon­don As­sur­ance.”

Mr. Rees was born in Aberys­t­wyth, Wales, on May 5, 1944, and was the son of a po­lice­man and a dancer who be­came a shop clerk. He grewup in Lon­don, where he stud­ied art at the Slade School of Fine Art and was a pain­ter’s ap­pren­tice. That led to his paint­ing sets at a theater in the sum­mer of 1965, and he was asked to ap­pear in a show.

In 1967, he be­gan per­form­ing with the Royal Shake­speare Co. “Ben Kings­ley joined at the same time I did, and we spent four years mov­ing scenery and Peggy Ashcroft around the stage,” he told the Bos­ton Globe. “Even­tu­ally we got lines, but only af­ter four years. It was fan­tas­tic.”

He re­mained more than two decades with the Royal Shake­speare Co. and served as the artis­tic di­rec­tor of the Wil­liamstown Theatre Fes­ti­val in Mas­sachusetts from 2004 to 2007. He was also the as­so­ciate artis­tic di­rec­tor of the Bristol Old Vic in Eng­land for two years start­ing in 1985.

Mr. Rees’s film de­but was in “Star 80,” the Bob Fosse-di­rected bi­og­ra­phy of Dorothy Strat­ten, the mur­dered Play­boy Play­mate. Mr. Rees played a char­ac­ter mod­eled on the film di­rec­tor Peter Bog­danovich. He played the Sher­iff of Rot­ting­ham in Mel Brooks’s “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” in 1993 and was in “The Scorpion King” in 2002 and “The Pink Pan­ther” in 2006.

He is sur­vived by his hus­band, Rick Elice, the play­wright, whose cred­its in­clude the “Peter Pan” pre­quel “Peter and the Star­catcher,” which Mr. Rees co-di­rected.

Roger Rees

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