A Broadway actress, Jo Sullivan Loesser, who scored a Tony Award nomination for her performance in 1956’s The Most Happy Fella, died yesterday T the age of 91.
Jo Sullivan passed away from heart failure at her New York City home.
News of her death was announced by her family through publicist David Gersten.
Born and raised in Mounds City, Illinois, Jo Sullivan began her professional career as a contestant on the early TV competition Arthur Godfrey Talent Scout Show (her rendition of “Italian Street Song” from Naughty Marietta lost out to a harmonica duo called The Polka Dots)
Soon, though, she was singing in a small Manhattan nightclub when she was chosen to understudy the lead role of Laurey in the original Broadway production of Oklahoma!, which was by then winding down its run.
She’d next be cast in musicals Sleepy Hollow and As Girls Go, but her breakthrough role was Polly Peachum in a concert version of The Threepenny Opera, conducted by Leonard Bernstein and starring Lotte Lenya; the staging led to the now legendary Off-Broadway production, with “The Bilbao Song” added to the show specifically for Sullivan’s Polly.
Her next milestone was the lead role of waitress Rosabella in The Most Happy Fella. She met and married Loesser – the musical’s composer, lyricist and book writer – eventually retiring to raise a family. Other stage credits prior to her first retirement included Carousel, Wonderful Town, Die Fledermaus and showboat.
She served as Artistic Associate for that revival as well as the fully orchestrated New York City Opera presentation that same year. Also in ’92, Sullivan Loesser was instrumental in the Broadway revival of Guys and Dolls, which would go on to win the Tony Award for Best Revival and become the longest-running revival in Broadway history
Sullivan Loesser was a longtime member of Board of Directors of The American Theatre Wing and The Actors Fund. She is survived by her daughter, Emily Loesser Stephenson, son-in-law Don Stephenson, companion Jaquin Fink, stepchildren John and Susan Loesser, and four grandchildren. She was predeceased by daughter Hannah Loesser in 2007.
Funeral services will be private.