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Jo Sullivan Loesser, Original Rosabella in Most Happy Fella, Dies at 91

Sullivan Loesser also originated the role of Polly in The Threepenny Opera.

Jo Sullivan Loesser has died at the age of 91.
(© David Gordon)

Jo Sullivan Loesser, the original Rosabella in The Most Happy Fella and the widow of the show's composer, died Sunday, April 28, at the age of 91. The cause was heart failure.

Born and raised in Mounds City, Illinois, Sullivan made her Broadway debut in Sleepy Hollow in 1948, followed by appearances in As the Girls Go and Let's Make an Opera. She received her big break when she created the role of Polly Peachum in Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera at the Theatre De Lys in 1954.

After Threepenny, Sullivan landed the role of Rosabella in The Most Happy Fella (1956) and earned a Tony nomination for her performance. Sixty years ago today, April 29, 1959, Sullivan married the show's creator, Frank Loesser, and they were together until his death a decade later.

Before and after The Most Happy Fella, she appeared in the City Center revivals of Carousel, Wonderful Town with Nancy Walker, Die Fleidermaus, and Show Boat, after which she retired to raise a family.

Sullivan Loesser was instrumental in preserving and furthering her husband's great musical legacy. She was instrumental in the creation of Goodspeed's two-piano production of The Most Happy Fella in 1991, as well as the legendary 1992 revival of Guys and Dolls, starring Nathan Lane and Faith Prince. She preserved songs by Loesser on albums by Ben Bagley, as well as several releases by DRG Records. Sullivan Loesser was an active member of Board of Directors of the American Theatre Wing and the Actors Fund.

Along with her husband, Sullivan Loesser was predeceased by her daughter, Hannah Loesser, who died in 2007. She is survived by daughter Emily Loesser Stephenson, son-in-law Don Stephenson, longtime companion Jaquin Fink, stepchildren John and Susan Loesser, and four grandchildren: Hallie, Fiona, Frank, and Beau. Funeral services will be private.

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