Composer and musical director Benjamin Rush "Rusty" Magee died on Sunday, February 16 at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, following a long battle with colon and brain cancer. He was 47.
Magee was born on August 6, 1955 in Washington, D.C., the son of Dr. Kenneth Raymond Magee and Bettie Morris Magee. He received a bachelors degree in music from Brown University in 1978, and was awarded an honorary Masters of Fine Arts from the Yale School of Drama after working for three years as musical consultant for the Yale Repertory Theater and the Yale Drama School.
Upon moving to New York, he established himself as not only a composer and lyricist for theater, television (including commercials), and film but also as an actor and comedian. He appeared in the film Hannah and Her Sisters and was seen on stage in The Irish...And How They Got That Way in New York and Boston.
In 1993, Magee was awarded the New York Outer Critics' Circle's James Fleetwood Award for his musical adaptation of Molière's Scapin, which has been produced by a number of major theaters across the country. The many other works to which he contributed music and lyrics include The Green Heart, with a book by Charles Busch, which was produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club; Ubu Rock, Servant Of Two Masters, and Molière's Imaginary Invalid at the American Repertory Theatre; and The Czar Of Rock and Roll with comedian Lewis Black. Magee co-produced and composed music for hundreds of one-act plays presented in association with Black at the West Bank Café's Downstairs Theatre Bar in New York City. He also arranged and composed music for The House of Blue Leaves at Lincoln Center and served as the musical director for the Irish Repertory Theatre.
Magee's recent work included setting Shakespeare's verse to music for the Moonwork productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1999, and What You Will (taken from Twelfth Night) in 2001, as well as a musical adaptation of Walt Whitman's "Thanks in Old Age" that appeared in Moonwork's 2002 original musical Voices From The Hill.
Magee is survived by his wife, two-time Tony-nominated actress Alison Fraser (The Secret Garden, Romance/Romance), and their son, Nathaniel Fraser Magee, both of New York City. He is also survived by his mother, two younger brothers, two nieces, and a nephew. For more information about Magee's life and career and to view an online memorial, visit the website www.sweetappreciation.com.