Dyanne Earley, former Marriott Theatre artistic director, has died

SHARE Dyanne Earley, former Marriott Theatre artistic director, has died

The Chicago theater community has lost one of its stars.

Dyanne Earley, the former Artistic Director for Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre, died Thursday night at the age of 76 after a long battle with a chronic illness.

In a statement, her son, veteran Chicago actor Kevin Earley said: “My mother passed away at home last night surrounded by her loving family. She had a passion for theatre that she instilled in me and I will carry that passion for the rest of my life. I have always been so proud of her accomplishments as a Director and Artistic Director. My brothers and I will miss her deeply.”

Ms. Earley, who began her affiliation with the Marriott Theatre in 1977 as a box-office employee, eventually moved up to her role as the theater’s artistic director in 1981, a position she held until 2001. She also directed numerous productions at the musical theater powerhouse, and was a driving force behind the Marriott’s children’s theater programming.

“The loss of Dyanne Earley is certainly difficult for her Marriott family. Yet we are reminded to celebrate her life, her commitment to theatre, and her incredible support of the ‘artist,'” said Marriott Theatre Executive Producer Terry James in a statement Friday. “Actors, directors, authors, and the industry as a whole, greatly benefited from her devotion to musical theatre. Her advocacy of theatre knew no rest. Dyanne was a driving force behind Marriott’s long time commitment to the development of new works. This became her passion, earning her national recognition. And her love for children’s theatre, as both director and author, will undoubtedly become a lasting legacy as hundreds of thousands of children have been introduced to musical theatre. Dyanne was fiercely loyal to her friends and family. She felt incredible pride in all her sons. We are all better for having known her. Dyanne Earley was one of life’s better gifts!”

In a phone conversation Friday, Kevin Earley said his mother planned out her final wishes as meticulously as she directed each of her musicals.

“She actually did a lot of planning for the end of her life, just as she directed her productions,” Kevin Earley said, with a chuckle. “She wanted to direct her exit. My brothers and I are trying to make all her wishes come true.”

Per Ms. Earley’s wishes, there will be no funeral service, but a short period of mourning followed by a celebration of her life.

“We’re hoping the celebration will take place in August on the grounds of the Marriott,” Kevin Earley said. “Perhaps by the lake; play the songs she wanted. My brother is going to sing. It’s a tribute for her and for her love of theater that we will do this.”

Of his mother’s many productions, Earley said “The First” (a musical about baseball legend Jackie Robinson) remained her favorite.

“It was one of the first shows she ever did, and it was really her favorite, Kevin Earley said. “She was a huge baseball fan, a huge Cubs fan, and she really loved directing that show.” He also said her greatest contribution to the Chicago scene was the fact that she always demanded a show make sense — (the story, the scenes, the blocking, the lighting). He said his mother’s dedication to showcasing new works was perhaps her greatest achievement.

Earley, who currently stars in the Goodman Theatre’s production of “Brigadoon,” said his mother instilled in him at a very early age a love for the theater.

“I have three older brothers and she had us on stage in a George M. Cohan revue … at Libertyville High School,” Earley said. We did one performance of it, but we sure rehearsed it a lot. I remember when I was around 10 years old, she had my brother Tom take me to auditions for ‘The Sound of Music’ at Marriott so no one would know I was her son. She didn’t want to have any say in the casting. … She always wanted me to make it on my own.”

Mother and son did 15-20 shows together — Dyanne as artistic director, Kevin in the cast. “I don’t think she ever directed me in a show,” he said. “She always called me ‘kid’; she would always say ‘good job, kiddo,’; ‘way to go kid.’ Then she would give me notes even if it wasn’t her show. Her influence on me was astounding. We would go to the nearby Denny’s after a show and really talk about it — about the craft of a performance, about the blocking, about the ins and outs of the storytelling, the art of a scene.”

For Kevin, tonight’s performance of “Brigadoon” will be dedicated to his mother.

“It will be hard [to go out on the stage tonight], but as mom often said, ‘Go out there kiddo. That’s what you do’.”

In addition to her son Kevin, Ms. Earley is survived by sons David, Tom and Mark. Her husband, Bill Earley, passed away two years ago.

Details about the memorial service will be announced at a later date.

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