‘I Never Knew Anyone Less Jaded’: Admiring Terrence McNally

Lyricist for McNally-penned musicals “Ragtime,” “A Man of No Importance” and “Anastasia”

He was a stickler for every word he wrote, every comma, every period. He would occasionally lecture the cast: “If I write a comma, you pause. If I write a period, you stop. I don’t want you to pause when there is no comma.”

What made Terrence’s voice distinctive was his authenticity: His very being went into every character. And he wanted every project to be great, mature, profound, serious at its heart — even “Anastasia,” which was based on an animated movie. He wanted to explore the history, to tell a more grown-up story.

Composer, “Ragtime,” “A Man of No Importance” and “Anastasia”

He would never give us something saying “Song goes here.” He would write a scene up to the point where you would feel a song could happen and then he would write a beautiful long monologue to suggest what the character was feeling, in language that would help bring his ideas across. When we read his first treatment for “Ragtime,” he had a scene for Mother, who was watching her husband go on an expedition to the North Pole. She says, “Goodbye, my love, God bless you, and I suppose bless America, too.” I thought, “Isn’t that a song?”

Playwright, “Six Degrees of Separation”

Our paths started crossing in the mid ’60s when we met at New Dramatists. Terrence, wonder of wonders, had already had two shows on Broadway — “The Lady of the Camellias” and “And Things That Go Bump in the Night.” And he was still in his mid-20s! But once you met him, you couldn’t be jealous. He was of such good cheer and generosity, you realized we were all in this together.

Composer and lyricist

I’ll miss him theatrically and I’ll miss him personally.

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