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Theater Critic and Web Pioneer Andy Propst Dies at 56

The founder of AmericanTheaterWeb died after a long struggle with cancer.

Andy Propst was a theater critic and website founder.
(© Rex Lott)

Theater critic, biographer, and web pioneer Andy Propst died on September 6. He was 56.

Propst is best known as the founder of AmericanTheaterWeb.com, an early online home for America's not-for-profit theaters, and the first serious attempt to provide a comprehensive listing of theaters and theatrical events on the Internet.

AmericanTheaterWeb.com was created in 1998 (a year before this website) and very quickly amassed listings for over 1,000 theaters nationwide. A message board was soon added for theater professionals to connect and swap notes. Propst offered pro bono web design for several not-for-profit theaters (this was when it was still common for theaters to rely on the free sites offered by America Online or Geocities). AmericanTheaterWeb's "American Theater in the News" section was the first major online aggregate of theater journalism. This exhausting endeavor in the age of dialup was an expression of Propst's deep love for the theater, which had fascinated him since his youth.

He was 9 when family friend Susan Miller (an acting teacher at University of Illinois) took him to his first musical, Sweet Charity. While the Cy Coleman, Dorthy Fields, and Neil Simon show about a dancer for hire might have been mature fare for a 9-year-old, it instilled in Propst a sophisticated musical taste that would serve him well as a critic and journalist.

Propst went on to study theater at the University of Chicago. He moved to New York City shortly after graduation, where he got a job as an assistant to the legendary theater producer and Public Theater founder, Joseph Papp. The experience gave him a front row seat to the process of creating shows (and getting them paid for) in the not-for-profit theater. This undoubtedly influenced his focus on not-for-profits when he founded AmericanTheaterWeb a decade later.

While continuing to tend AmericanTheaterWeb, Propst embarked on a busy career as a freelance critic and arts journalist, working for Backstage, The Village Voice, and TimeOut. He served as a nominator for the Drama Desk Awards during four different seasons, and served as a judge for the Obie Awards from 2009 to 2011. In 2008, he began mentoring young critics through the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center's National Critics Institute.

In 2009, Propst joined the editorial team of TheaterMania, where he became an invaluable reviewer of both stage shows and recorded music. He was promoted to Senior Editor of TheaterMania's digital magazine in 2011 before departing the company in 2013. Hundreds of his stories and reviews can still be read here.

He published his first book, the Cy Coleman biography You Fascinate Me So, in 2015, very much a tribute to the composer who got him hooked on musical theater. In 2016, he moved to Peachtree City, Georgia to be closer to his father and to focus on writing books full-time. Two more volumes would follow: They Made Us Happy: Betty Comden & Adolph Green's Musicals & Movies in 2019 and The 100 Most Important People in Musical Theatre later that year.

If Propst wrote like he was running out of time, it's because he was. He was diagnosed with colon cancer on Christmas 2018. He continued to write about the theater and the people in it, his passion for this lifelong affair undiminished by rounds of chemotherapy.

His intelligence as a critic and generosity as a colleague will be remembered by the countless people he encouraged in their careers, including this writer.

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