South Florida’s own “Auntie Mame,” the larger-than-life performer and producer Jan McArt passed away early Sunday morning, Jan. 31.
McArt, who famously demurred about her exact age to both family, friends and government agencies, was reportedly 83.
The Midwest native undertook opera training and later performed with the San Francisco Opera and NBC Opera. In addition to stints Off-Broadway and on Broadway, she appeared on television as a guest performer on “The Merv Griffin Show,” “The Mike Douglas Show” and “The Tonight Show,” before relocating to South Florida in the mid-1970s to found the Royal Palm Dinner Theatre in Boca Raton.
The 250-seat venue produced traditional Broadway fare through 2001 with McArt taking on leading roles, too. During the dinner theater’s heyday, she managed a $3 million annual budget with a weekly payroll of 150 employees. According to Florida Theater on Stage, a popular regional blog, McArt’s productions racked up by one estimate 278 Carbonell nominations, winning at least 42 awards. McArt also received the Carbonell’s George Abbott Award in 1984 and the Ruth Foreman Award in 2001 for service to the theater community.
More recently, McArt served as Lynn University’s director of theater arts development since 2004 and launched the Jan McArt New Play Reading Series in 2013. That series nurtured works by several gay South Florida playwrights including Michael McKeever, Stuart Meltzer and Dan Clancy. Several of the new plays workshopped and semi-staged at Lynn’s Wold Performing Arts Center in Boca would later receive professional productions across the country.
Local theater professionals were quick to take to social media to express their grief and praise McArt’s legacy.
Actor and director Jeffrey Bruce wrote, “…having worked [with] her for years, I always marveled at how, no matter how long ago she had met someone, she always, ALWAYS knew their name! Every one of those people, like myself, I am sure, fell quickly in love with her. Remarkable. A true shining star in the theatrical stratosphere.”
Actor Michael Walters, who also performs as Florida’s Own Dame Edna, posted on Facebook, “She came into my life at a time when I needed help. She gave me a great start in South Florida theatre … and she even gave me an office job when I needed work, for which I was ill-equipped. There’s no way to describe it when someone this special believes in you.”
In an extended obituary published late Sunday, Florida Theater on Stage quoted playwright McKeever:
“Getting to know and work with Jan McArt was nothing less than a joy … [Her program] gave many South Florida playwrights the opportunity to have their plays presented in front of an audience for the first time. Because of her name and reputation, the series always enjoyed amazingly large audiences and top-level performers. She was warm and giving on stage and off, and always the consummate professional. I will treasure my friendship with this South Florida theater icon for as long as I live.”
McArt is survived by a daughter and two grandchildren. A private family service will be held.