B'way vet Mordecai dies at 60

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Benjamin Mordecai III, the producer who brought the works of August Wilson to Broadway, died after a long illness Sunday in New Haven, Conn. He was 60.

Mordecai is represented on Broadway with the new musical “Brooklyn.” His final production was the premiere of “Radio Golf,” now playing at Yale Repertory Theater in New Haven, the final work of Wilson’s 10-play cycle chronicling the African-American experience in the 20th century.

Mordecai was an especially prolific Broadway producer during the past two seasons. In addition to “Brooklyn,” he presented a revival of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical “Flower Drum Song,” the new play “Sixteen Wounded” by Eliam Kraiem and a revival of Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” starring Whoopi Goldberg.

He was scheduled to bring Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean” to Broadway in fall 2004, but at the last moment an investor dropped out, leaving the production nearly $1 million short of its $2 million-plus capitalization. Carole Shorenstein Hays came to the rescue with the needed money, replacing Mordecai as lead producer on the project.

Despite the “Gem” disappointment, Mordecai’s legacy in the theater remains closely associated with Wilson’s. Their working relationship began when Mordecai took over as managing director of Yale Rep in 1982, and then-artistic director Lloyd Richards introduced him to Wilson at the National Playwrights Conference in Waterford, Conn.

Mordecai transferred five Richards/Wilson collaborations from Yale to Broadway: “Ma Rainey,” “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” “Two Trains Running” and the playwright’s two Pulitzer Prize-winning dramas, “Fences” and “The Piano Lesson.”

Mordecai’s other Yale-to-Gotham transfers included productions of Lee Blessing’s “A Walk in the Woods,” Athol Fugard’s “Blood Knot” and Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” and “Ah, Wilderness!”

Mordecai remained at the Rep through 1993. Since then, he has been associate dean of the Yale School of Drama, where he also chaired the graduate management program and oversaw financial aid and recruitment.

In 1992, he formed the theatrical producing and management firm Benjamin Mordecai Prods. He was also the managing partner of Producers Four. In addition to “Sixteen Wounded,” that producing org opened “Hitchcock Blonde” in London. Sageworks, a Wilson/Mordecai partnership, produced “Seven Guitars” and “King Hedley II” on Broadway. In addition, Mordecai oversaw Wilson’s “Jitney,” first Off Broadway and then at London’s National Theater.

Mordecai’s other producer credits included Anna Deavere Smith’s “Twilight: Los Angeles,” David Henry Hwang’s “Golden Child,” Lanford Wilson’s “Redwood Curtain” and Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America.”

Last month, a weakened Mordecai left his hospital bed in a wheelchair to be at a ceremony presenting “Radio Golf” to the students of the Yale School of Drama. Wilson acknowledged his debt to his producer and friend, saying there were only two constants in his 10-play cycle: himself and Mordecai.

Mordecai is survived by his wife, Sherry Lynn Morley, and a daughter.

Donations may be made to the Benjamin Mordecai Fund at the Yale School of Drama.

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