Broadway belter known as mini Merman
Diminutive actress Alice Playten, whose career spanned more than 50 years, parts including Baby Louise in Broadway’s original “Gypsy,” a Tony nomination for “Henry, Sweet Henry” and two Obie wins, died of heart failure complicated by both pancreatic cancer and diabetes on June 25 in Manhattan. She was 63.
Playten made her Broadway debut in “Gypsy” in 1960. She was often described as a miniature version of Ethel Merman, whose work on finale number “Rose’s Turn” she studied from the wings during performances of “Gypsy.”
Her other Broadway credits included “Oliver!” and “Hello, Dolly!”; “Henry, Sweet Henry,” which ran briefly in 1967 — but long enough to secure Playten a Tony nomination for featured actress in a musical; the Michael Weller play “Spoils of War,” which ran briefly in 1988; Neil Simon’s “Rumors,” in which she replaced Joyce Van Patten; “Seussical,” in which she played Mrs. Mayor; and her last White Way outing, “Caroline, or Change,” in which she portrayed Granda Gellman in 2004.
She hit Off Broadway frequently as well, with credits including “Promenade”; “Up From Paradise”; “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You”; Michael John LaChiusa musical “First Lady Suite,” in which she played Mamie Eisenhower — and for which she won an Obie; “A Flea in Her Ear”; “National Lampoon’s Lemmings,” in which she appeared onstage with John Belushi and Chevy Chase, performed as Mick Jagger and won an Obie; and “Shlemiel the First.”
Playten made her bigscreen debut in 1963’s “Ladybug Ladybug,” appeared in Ridley Scott’s “Legend” (1985) and Fred Schepisi’s “IQ” in 1994 and did occasional voicework for films including “Heavy Metal,” “Amityville II: The Possession” and “Felix the Cat: The Movie.”
The actress also appeared on television. She was a series regular on brief skein “The Lost Saucer” in 1975; did voicework for animated “Doug” in the ’90s; recurred on “Frasier”; and guested on “The Education of Max Bickford,” “As the World Turns” and, in her last TV appearance, two episodes of “The Book of Daniel” in 2006.
To the general public, however, Playten was perhaps best known for her role in a 1970 Alka Seltzer commercial as a newlywed who makes an enormous dumpling for her spouse.
Born Alice Plotkin in New York City, she attended the Metropolitan Opera ballet school and made her stage debut when she was 11 in the Met’s 1959 production of “Wozzeck.”
She is survived by her husband, Joshua White.