Playwright Terrence McNally becomes one of PBS’ ‘American Masters’

Award-winning playwright gets a PBS profile

Terrence McNally

In the same week he receives a special Tony Award for lifetime achievement in the theater, Terrence McNally is being celebrated in another way.

A winner of four competitive Tonys, the playwright behind such classics as “The Ritz,” “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” (now getting a Broadway revival) and “Love! Valour! Compassion!” is showcased in PBS’ new “American Masters” profile Friday, June 14 (check local listings). Many talents who have worked with him – including Rita Moreno, Nathan Lane, Christine Baranski, F. Murray Abraham, Angela Lansbury, Chita Rivera, Patrick Wilson, Audra McDonald and Tyne Daly — comment on his life and career, as does McNally himself. Additionally, Meryl Streep and Bryan Cranston are heard.

“I don’t like looking back,” McNally said in a press conference. “I don’t like having turned 80 (last November). But when I look back, I like what I see. I’ve had a great life and feel very grateful, but I’ve always been blessed in finding people who share my vision. And I’ve worked with some really good actors who maybe haven’t been really good in plays of mine because they don’t hear my rhythms and they don’t share my point of view.”

However, “Amadeus” Oscar winner Abraham benefited from helping to bring McNally’s work to life in the original mid-1970s Broadway staging of “The Ritz.” The actor reflects, “It’s the luckiest thing that ever happened to me in theater, him saying, ‘OK. Let this guy out there come and read.’ After about 10 or 12 hours of auditioning people, you don’t want to see anybody else. You want to go home. So it was really big of them to let me come in and read.

“And it was terrific that he was open enough to buy my act,” adds Abraham. “We communicated through his words. As far as knowing he’s a great American master … well, you want to believe that. You want to think the most and the best of someone whose work seems to communicate with you immediately, which it did. And still does.”

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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