Auburn Education Foundation
Randy Slovacek (The Randy Report)
Happy Birthday Thommie Walsh
Posted: 15 Mar 2019 09:01 AM PDT
I originally posted this on March 15, 2011.
Thommie Walsh was a 2-time Tony Award winner, an original cast member of the ground-breaking A Chorus Line, and my dear wonderful friend.
Thommie came into my life in so many ways.
As a young actor and dancer, I was forever changed by his performance in A Chorus Line. The boy who grew up near Buffalo but "couldn't remember the name of the town" - he'd blocked it out.
His work on Broadway was the stuff wide-eyed young actors or dancers like me only dreamed about. He danced in several Broadway shows - including A Chorus Line - and then graduated to director/choreographer.
As Tommy Tune's partner, he won two Tony Awards: for A Day in Hollywood / A Night in the Ukraine and My One And Only.
Thommie's accomplishments and honors were many, too numerous to mention them all.
But my favorite memory of Thommie was as my friend.
In 2002, Donna McKechnie was asked to perform her then-developing one woman show "Inside The Music" in Los Angeles. Thommie was her director and choreographer. The theater was a small theater on a budget, so Donna asked if Thommie could stay with me.
Every day was a holiday with Thommie in the house. Having consulted on some of Donna's earlier shows, I accompanied Thommie to rehearsals and assisted when I could. But just being around Thommie made life better and funnier and more wonderful. We became very fast friends.
Thommie was immensely supportive of my work as a director and/or choreographer. Some years later, when I was choreographing a show off-Broadway, he insisted he come to see the show. Then he made a point of taking me to dinner at Joe Allens (famous Broadway restaurant) to talk about it. I'll never forget the look in his eyes when he sat down, smiled, and simply said to me "you did good - I loved it."
His sense of humor, his directness in any situation, everything about Thommie worked for me. My wonderful, funny, talented friend.
In late 2006, however, he stopped returning phone calls. I worried something was wrong.
I reached out to everyone I could. At one point, on Christmas eve, I stood outside a holiday dinner in the freezing cold on the phone with a close friend of Thommie's. The news was not good. I was distraught. I frantically asked the friend to keep me informed as his health deteriorated.
News was very slow to come over the next several months. I did all I could to stay in the loop from across the country.
Then, on a hot summer night - June 16, 2007 - this boy-wonder of Broadway was gone.
I was riding in a car in Las Vegas when a friend called: "Did you hear about Thommie?"
I held my breath in silence. I didn't want to know.
Several heart beats went by.
I'm dramatic - surely I'm wrong. Please let me be wrong.
I wasn't. My friend on the other end of the call was sad and silent. But, the news had come.
But never forgotten. I remember Thommie's birthday every year. March 15th - the Ides of March. From Julius Caesar - "beware the Ides of March." Beware indeed. He used his own birthday onstage in A Chorus Line as "Bobby" or "Robert Charles Joseph Henry Mills, III" as his introduction went. Just so dang funny.
I would play his role in A Chorus Line several times, and I always thought of Thommie when I did.
Near the end of his character's monologue, he had a line that said, "I just wanted to see if anyone would notice me."
Boy, did the world notice Thommie.
I miss Thommie often. His laugh, his humor, his talent, his friendship... all of it boundless.
I'd love to regale you with some stories I lived with him, but they may not be suitable for this post. If you knew him, you know what I mean. If you don't, then please know I hope someday you know someone like him so you will.
Except there will never be another Thommie Walsh. Ever. And my eyes tear up with joy and sadness every time I know that.
Thommie - how very lucky am I to have known you. I miss you. I always will.
Thommie once advised me if you were going to steal, steal from the best.
So, as Thommie would close his letters, from me to the fabulous Thommie Walsh:
Thank you, everyone, for such a warm welcoming and…. thank you Auburn Education Foundation for honoring and celebrating my brother Thommie and making him an inductee into the Auburn Alumni Hall of Distinction for 2018. And a warm congrats to my fellow inductees…and an enormous heartfelt thank you to Tommy Blair and Karel Smith for nominating Thommie and to my family and friends who are here tonight for this celebration. Thank you, everyone!!!
Thommie graduated in 1968 from East High School. While in High School he loved and shined in the arts… however… he had to take Algebra 3 times… believe it or not… He Did… during the school year, during summer school and the following school year again, until finally after much frustration, struggle and with little success, Thommie’s math teacher Mrs. Gerin conceded and in defeat finally passed him with a 65. …..Wow….finally…..As you can see he had no use for algebra concepts whether triangles were congruent or did he care about does x satisfy the equation? …and he did care about forms of theater staging whether it was a Proscenium stage, a theater in the round or….. Like 270 degrees equals a Thrust stage….. Sooooo I guess he did learn something in Mrs. Gerin’s class. He applied those concepts somehow… someway …. When he was collaborating with creative teams to put on Broadway shows throughout his successful career.
Thommie’s journey began at age five when he was enrolled at the Irma Baker School of Dance. Irma tapped into his soul and helped him discover his purpose, his passion and the power of performing. When Irma retired Thommie took a greyhound bus weekly to Syracuse to continue his studies of dance under the direction of David Shields. After high school, he applied and auditioned at Juilliard School in NYC…. A World Leader in the Arts. When the letter arrived in the mail and he wasn’t accepted. He was so heartbroken and crushed. But Before he could do a pirouette in the cellar my fun, loving, flamboyant mother Ellie very much Auntie Mame got him to apply and eventually he was enrolled at the prestigious/renowned program at Boston Conservatory of Music
After two years and during the beginning of his junior year at the Conservatory in the musical theater department, Thommie became impatient to perform and wanted to make a premature exit. He would call home weekly asking if he could quit college. Singing “Please release me. ” And Ellie would always respond “Oh honey…honey… please, please.… no no no you have to stay…you need your degree... And……After much persistence, determination and…yes lots and lots of MANIPULATION Thommie won in the end and left with an Associate Degree. Again….He wasn’t being challenged with the curriculum but rather by his intense inner deep passion to dance and perform on Broadway.
After leaving college he joined and traveled the country with the national tours of Disney on Parade and Applause, starring Lauren Bacall…..that was an education in itself… and then he joined The Ann-Margret Las Vegas Show. Later left Vegas to be in the film version of Jesus Christ Superstar as the apostle Thaddeus that was filmed on location in Israel.
Thommie was a “true artist”—one who was well-rounded, culturally aware and found SO much joy and happiness performing and dancing. HIS PERSONALITY SIMPLY SPARKLED, RICH WITH "Magical... Musical .. AND Artistic QUALITIES... Thommie was Clever..., he was Mysterious..., Charismatic....., Adventuresome ...., a “Style Extraordinaire, compassionate, giving, and a true gentelman…...he was unique, witty and Smart……his humor entertained all who knew him. People felt better after experiencing time with Thommie he made them feel as if they were the one and only person who mattered. These feelings were based in truth as Thommie held much devotion and loyalty towards family, friends, and the people in his life. He was all of these characteristics or genuine attributes which all came from his heart. As you all know…..In a very… very fierce, competitive, cut-throat business Thommie still….remained with grace and humility!!!
Thommie moved to NYC in his early twenties and made his Broadway debut in the chorus of Seesaw starring Michele Lee and Ken Howard.
By 1975, he was creating the role of Bobby in the original Broadway production of A Chorus Line. Auburn is cemented forever in Thommie’s monologue….Do you remember when Thommie was asked by the director about school……and his response…. WAS…. School??? You wanna hear about school? I went to P.S. Shit…. See, I was the kind of kid that was always getting slammed into lockers and stuff like that, Not…only by the students….by the teachers too,”….. I think they call that BULLYING and mean-spirited now…I think so….but Thommie overcame and showed his strength by continuing to achieve his dream!!!!
At 26 years old Thommie bought a home on Owasco Lake for our parents Ellie and Jitch. He loved Auburn and he planned on retiring sometime in his hometown. In the summer of 1990, he co-wrote a book at his lake home with Baayork Lee, another Chorus Line cast member, about the musical's origins and evolution, entitled “On the Line. ” A wonderful read for future performers and theatergoers.
At 25 years old, most artists are still dancing and performing on Broadway still developing their craft. Being brave, daring and extremely talented Thommie left his dancing career to concentrate on choreography, musical staging, and direction. His success and accomplishments on Broadway as a choreographer were:
“The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,”
“1940’s Radio Hour,”
“Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?”
“My Favorite Year.”
He received two Tony and Drama Desk Awards for his choreography in “A Day in Hollywood/ A Night in The Ukraine” and “My One and Only” starring Tommy Tune and Twiggy, for which he also received a Tony Award nomination for best direction…….. Again Auburn is mentioned in his first TONY…acceptance speech….. I think he liked Auburn…
Do you remember Thommie’s acceptance speech for his first Tony Award in 1980? …..Nervously he got up on stage and immediately said he hoped his hometown of Auburn, NY was watching but before he came to the awards he realized that the Yankees were playing Seattle on another network…. so he doubted very much that they were? Yes, they were watching THOMMIE!....and Later when he came home for a visit Auburnians did let him know they were watching and were very proud of him. Many Auburnians sent him congratulatory cards, flowers, and telegrams …..What a Night it was for my family……We were so excited, and so so so proud of Thommie.
Being a brilliant choreographer, director and with such an established and well-known reputation in the industry, Thommie was brought in as a “show doctor” on many Broadway shows during the 1980s Such as…. “The Grand Tour,” “Black and Blue,” “The Tap Dance Kid” and “Grand Hotel” …….He choreographed and restaged many dance numbers for these Broadway shows ……and with his usual humbleness, Thommie deferred his publicity and billing credit back to the original choreographers. He did this quietly behind the scenes, as an unbilled "show doctor."
In 2001 Thommie joined up again with Ann-Margret. He Choreographed and directed her first appearance in a stage musical in a touring production of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” with rave reviews. Thommie had a wide range of contributions in show biz …As a kid, he would watch the Ed Sullivan show every Sunday evening saying BARBIE …I am going to be on that show someday…and yes Thommie was a dancer on the Ed Sullivan’s Show and the Smothers Brother’s too as a dancing tooth. He also was a judge for Miss America, Danny Hoctor's Dance Caravan and Stars of Tomorrow in conjunction with the Professional Dance Teachers Association. He directed and choreographed many commercials such as the NY Lottery, MCI Friends & Family, Perdue Chicken, and Crush Soda. Thommie’s dazzling direction and staging led to many musical numbers for Broadway’s legends: Mitzi Gaynor, Lucie Arnaz, Tommy Tune, Joel Grey, Liza Minnelli, Chita Rivera, Donna McKechnie, Whoppi, Michelle Lee, Lorna Loft, Sandy Duncan, Barbara Cook and many more.
An additional outstanding achievement of Thommie’s journey is how he shared his artistry and love of musical theater with the next generation. Thommie maintained a strong conviction for a very long time that it was important to encourage new artists to achieve their aspirations, and pursue their hopes and dreams in theater. He exposed and welcomed new artists to the performing arts by teaching some of his invaluable talents. People of all ages from across the country and world were influenced by Thommie in so many ways. Besides dance… he taught them how to succeed in show business, how to be a professional, and the importance of Determination, Perseverance and Just….“having a heart”….. he stressed how to be prepared for an audition….. how to Accept Rejections…. Don’t just sit around waiting for the Universe to provide you with work, use your talent to create your own shows, your own opportunities, and find venues where you can share your gifts with the world.
He would Also….tell them, “….Even if your heart is broken after an audition…never..never give up…your dream…. there is always another audition…always another show and always another opening…” and he further emphasized that “... no matter how much resistance you get or how hard it gets . . dooooo it anyway!!
In the year 2007, before Thommie was welcomed at the pearly gates, he was yet again returning to Broadway as choreographer for the new musical “Tale of Two Cities.” Unfortunately, with a hard twist of fate, my dear brother went to be with the angels before completing this most significant project… but not without forever leaving his mark on Broadway…Thommie had much more to offer and much more to do…yet again he might be…who knows choreographing and directing millions of shows right now in heaven!
One year later after Thommie left us and went on to his next journey …. I received a call from Boston Conservatory musical theater department to invite me to the 2008 graduation ceremony. At the graduation, I was presented and accepted….The Lifetime Achievement Award for Thommie. How proud and honored I was to go up on that stage and receive this prestigious award. I would think this AWARD is unheard of since he EXITED LEFT or did he EXIT RIGHT I can’t remember during his junior year before finishing his degree. However…..They still gave him this award to honor his masterful artistic success in show business…..
As you can see we have a legacy here in Auburn - that connects us to some of the best musical theater Broadway has ever seen in the 20th Century…… and that Auburn connection is – my beautiful brother Thommie. My family and I would love to have his name, his originality, and legacy a part of Auburn always.
I offer my forever, warmth, and love to the people in my hometown of Auburn, my family, friends, and the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival for your loyalty, your generous loving spirit and for always helping me to continue to produce The Thommie Walsh Scholarship Fund. Thommie would have been so proud and honored to know that his hometown thought so much of him that a scholarship is being offered in celebration of his artistry. But more importantly, he would have loved knowing that the scholarship had made a difference in the lives of students who are striving for a career in musical theater.
Thank you again for this beautiful honor you have bestowed upon Thommie. At this moment I suspect he is looking down on ALL OF you Auburnians from his place among the angels with much love and gratitude. Thank You….You have all touched my heart too!!!
Thommie's Birthday - Balloons -2009
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|Coming soon: Thommie Walsh Drive?
The Kathleen Barran / The Citizen A proposal to name the East Lake Road entrance to Emerson Park "Thommie Walsh Drive" will be reviewed this week by a county commission.
The Cayuga County Parks & Trails Commission on Wednesday will discuss a proposal to name the entrance road after the late performing artist Thommie Walsh, the Tony Award-winning Auburn area native.
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|On Friday, November 16, 2007 Baayork Lee and Tommy Tune hosted a memorial for Thommie at Sardi's. Thommie's life work was represented by a score of musical performances and remembrances. One of the highlights was his sister Barbara's reading of Thommie's 10 Commandments of Life.