Today would have been Michael Jeter’s 56th birthday. Jeter, whose career as an actor spanned from his film debut in Hair in 1979 to an Emmy award winning turn on “Evening Shade” to Mr. Noodle on “Sesame Street,” was an impressive character actor who made his mark in every medium possible. His greatest career triumph arrived in the role of terminally ill Otto Kringelein the 1989 musical Grand Hotel, a role for which he received the Drama Desk and Tony awards for Best Featured Actor in a Musical.
Grand Hotel, which was one of the big successes of the 1989-90 season, features some of the most profound direction that has been seen in a musical. With Tommy Tune at the helm, the show was culled from the wreckage of the 1958 out of town closer, At the Grand, with a score by Wright & Forrest of Kismet fame, as well as a book by Luther Davis. When Tune came on the scene as the show was struggling in Boston, he also brought in Maury Yeston who added a few songs and helped turn the show into a solid seamless piece. Grand Hotel ran for 1,017 performances,winning additional Tony awards for Tune’s staging and choreography, Jules Fisher’s lighting and Santo Loquasto’s costumes. (The big best musical winner was Cy Coleman’s jazz noir musical comedy City of Angels). The original cast starred David James Carroll, Liliane Montevecchi, Karen Akers, Jane Krakowski, Timothy Jerome, and of course Jeter.
Carroll was forced to leave the show early in its run when he was stricken with AIDS (further sadness came when he passed away in the recording studio, just before they were to record his numbers for the original cast album). Replacing him in the show (and eventually on the album) was Brent Barrett, with whom Jeter performed the show’s unabashedly jubilant showstopper – one of the best in the American musical theatre, “We’ll Take a Glass Together” on the Tony telecast in 1990.
Moments later, it was time for the Featured Actor in a Musical award. Jeter offered the world one of the most moving acceptance speeches seen on a Tony telecast
Jeter was diagnosed with HIV in 1997, but his tragic death in 2003 came from a epileptic episode combined with asphyxiation. The world lost one of its great talents much too soon. Just thought it would be nice to remember him on his birthday.