Every theatergoer recognizes how ephemeral live performance is. Once the final curtain goes down, the show vanishes forever, save in the memories of the audience and the actors.
Rick McKay made it his task to preserve some of those memories. He recorded hundreds of hours of interviews with dozens of actors about their recollections of New York theater, then turned them into the documentary “Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There” (2004).
Mr. McKay had far more material than he could squeeze into one documentary, so he worked on two sequels. He had completed a rough cut of the second, but neither was released before he was found dead on Jan. 29 in his home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He was 62.
His brother, Stephen, said the cause had not been determined.
Mr. McKay sang in cabarets and on cruise ships and produced segments for programs about the arts on the New York public television station WNET before he began interviewing Broadway performers, originally with the idea of possibly using the material for another public TV segment.
He soon envisioned a grander project, one that became more feasible when he persuaded the actress Bea Arthur to let him interview her at her home in the mid-1990s.
Mr. McKay told the podcast “Behind the Curtain: Broadway’s Living Legends” in 2016 that Ms. Arthur was dismayed when he told her that he planned to conduct the interview while handling the camera, sound and lighting by himself. But the interview went well, and she connected him to some of her famous friends. He used her connections and those of his own friends in show business as entree to an ever-wider circle of celebrities.
Mr. McKay was persistent in his pursuit of different actors, and once he got them on camera he was a convivial, sympathetic interviewer.
The secret to getting stars to open up about their lives was easy, he said on the podcast: Do extensive research and “make it about them, constantly about them.”
“Most people will never work with a cast like this,” Mr. McKay told The Los Angeles Times in 2004.
In “Broadway,” which Mr. McKay produced, directed and edited, Ms. MacLaine reminisced about making lemonade for herself out of free lemons, water and sugar at a Manhattan automat. Mr. Gazzara recalled skipping school for more than a month to see every play on Broadway. And Ms. Burnett remembered sharing an audition dress with three other aspiring actresses.
Mr. McKay also tracked down rare archival footage, including an audio recording of Marlon Brando in “A Streetcar Named Desire” during the play’s original Broadway run in the late 1940s.
The documentary was shown at art-house cinemas and won more than a dozen awards at film festivals. Critics were mostly enthusiastic.
“ ‘Broadway: The Golden Age’ is all chatter all the time, but that’s a good thing,” Desson Thomson wrote in The Washington Post.
“The chatterers, you see, are actors of a certain vintage,” he continued. “A Broadway vintage, that is. And the stories they tell in this warm, evocative documentary crackle with humor and glow with reverence.”
Mr. McKay’s brother said he was not sure when the two subsequent parts of the documentary would be released.
Richard Charles McKay was born on Aug. 30, 1955, in a suburb of Boston. His mother, the former Alyce Monroe, was a homemaker and theater buff, and his father, James McKay, was an engineer.
When Rick was still young the family moved to Beech Grove, Ind., near Indianapolis, where he was active in musical theater and graduated from high school. He taught at the Indiana School for the Deaf, moved to Boston in the early 1970s, then lived in Japan, where he was an English teacher and nightclub singer.
After moving to New York, he kept singing in clubs and on cruises and later turned to broadcast and print journalism.
In addition to his brother, he is survived by four sisters, Stacie Stevenson and Sandy, Hope and Linda McKay.
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