THIS YEAR, the American singer, actor and producer Jeff Warren would have turned 100 on 21 January 2021.
To commemorate his centenary, Robert Ray has compiled a video tribute to Jeff. The video is divided into two parts. The first half traces Jeff’s career in America, the UK and Australia, drawing on personal and stage photos, theatre programmes, film footage, song recordings and interviews. In the second part, filmed in 2003, Jeff faces the camera and tells his story in his own words. This ‘visual-oral autobiography’ is both funny and candid. For those who knew Jeff, this is a chance to reconnect with an old friend. And for those who did not know him, this provides a heartwarming and intimate introduction.
Jeff made his New York stage debut in Lady in the Dark in 1943, playing opposite Gertrude Lawrence. During the 1950s he appeared in numerous musicals including the original Broadway production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (starring Carole Channing), and the Broadway and West End seasons of Call Me Madam alongside Ethel Merman.
In 1960, he toured the US as the King of Siam in Rogers & Hammersteins’s The King and I. Two years later, in 1962, he was brought to Australia by Garnet H. Carroll to reprise the role. The show premiered at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre on 22 December and was an instant hit playing to record crowds around the country until April 1964.
Throughout the 1960s Jeff worked as a lecturer, performer and director in both Australia and America before becoming an Australian citizen in 1973. Over the next two decades he worked as a resident director of St Martin’s Theatre, then at the Open Stage at Melbourne State College. He also provided funding for a series of awards for young theatre artists through the National Theatre Drama School, Melbourne.
During his time in Australia Jeff was regarded as a leader in musical theatre and a mentor for many up-and-coming performers. Although he retired from the stage in 1986 he made a memorable return in the Follies In Concert for the Melbourne International Festival in 1993. Jeff died on 21 September 2003, aged 82.