SOUTHBURY, Conn. — More than 600 relatives, friends and cohorts of Max Showalter gathered in Chester, Conn., on Oct. 7 for a three-hour memorial tribute to the late actor-composer-singer.
Showalter, who died of cancer on July 30 at age 83, had lived in Chester for the last 16 years. He arrived in 1984, the same year that “Harrigan ‘n’ Hart,” the musical he wrote with his collaborator, actor-lyricist Peter Walker, opened the Goodspeed Opera House’s second stage, the Norma Terris Theater in Chester. Showalter went on to be active in a variety of area concerns, including the Goodspeed, the National Theater of the Deaf, the Ivoryton Playhouse and the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.
Nanette Fabray and Doris Day sent condolence letters. In attendance were Marge Champion, Patricia Ben Peterson, Nat Chandler, Claiborne Richardson, Michael Price, Julia Cameron, David Hays, the Ahn Trio, Diane Smith, Ann Showalter Philpott, Mark Famiglietti, Eric Grundy, Adam Souza and Christopher Kauffman.
The memorial took place in a tent on the Chester Meeting House Green. It began with boy soprano Mathew Sabato singing an excerpt from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Requiem and ended with a recording of Showalter himself playing and singing Irving Berlin’s “I Love a Piano,” followed by taps and reveille performed by Harvey Redak, a reminder that Showalter was in the cast of the legendary WWII Berlin musical “This Is the Army.”
Among the most moving testaments to Showalter’s supportive kindness were those from two people who found a much-needed father figure in him, deaf comedian Kathy Buckley and former child actor Dieter Krause.
In her letter, Day thanked the people of Chester for taking Showalter to their hearts. Showalter (who also worked under the name Casey Adams) got to know Chester when he was in the 1959 Day movie “It Happened to Jane,” which filmed in the town and its surroundings.
On display at the service was a large Aldo Luango canvas of Showalter as Horace Vandergelder in “Hello, Dolly!,” a role he played 2,300 times, with Betty Grable and Martha Raye on Broadway and on tour with Carol Channing.
A Max Showalter Foundation has been set up in order to inspire and educate young creators in the fields of theater, film and music.