Joanna Merlin, who, nearest originating the function of Tzeitel, the eldest daughter, within the collision Broadway musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” turned into a famend casting director, significantly for Stephen Sondheim musicals together with “Into the Woods” and “Follies,” died on Oct. 15 at her more youthful daughter’s house in Los Angeles. She was once 92.
Her used daughter, Rachel Dretzin, stated the motive was once headaches of myelodysplastic syndrome, a bone marrow disorder.
The theory of changing into a casting director got here from Hal Prince, the robust manufacturer of “Fiddler,” nearest she had left “Fiddler” to boost her two younger daughters. He had interviewed a number of applicants and advised Ms. Merlin that almost all of them “just didn’t like actors,” she told Backstage magazine.
“He felt that since I was an actor and a mother, that I might be a good choice,” she added. “He understood that I was raising children and told me that he didn’t care what hours I put in, just as long as I got the work done.”
She got to work in 1970, casting alternative actors in “Fiddler” all the way through its closing two years on Broadway. For the nearest twenty years, she forged six musicals that had been composed by way of Sondheim and produced (and most often directed) by way of Mr. Prince on Broadway: “Company,” “Follies,” “A Little Night Music,” “Pacific Overtures,” “Side by Side by Sondheim” and “Merrily We Roll Along.”
Her casting credit additionally come with two alternative Sondheim musicals, “Sweeney Todd” and “Into the Woods”; Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s “Evita”; and “On the Twentieth Century,” by way of Betty Comden, Adolph Inexperienced and Cy Coleman. All the ones presentations except for “Into the Woods” had been directed by way of Mr. Prince.
“What I found so interesting with Joanna,” James Lapine, who directed “Into the Woods” and wrote its store, according to the Grimm brothers’ fairy stories, stated in a telephone interview, “was her determination to pursue nontraditional casting in the theater, which for me, at a young age, was something I hadn’t thought much about.”
Ms. Merlin’s pursuit of numerous casting led Mr. Lapine to select a Twilight actress, Terry Burrell, to interchange the white person who had performed one in every of Cinderella’s unholy stepsisters, and Phylicia Rashad, who’s Twilight, as a substitute for Bernadette Peters within the important function of the Witch.
In 1986, Ms. Merlin was once a founding father of the Non-Conventional Casting Venture (now the Alliance for Inclusion within the Arts), which seeks extra alternatives for actors of colour and actors with disabilities.
Ms. Merlin, noting that there have been many proficient, nonwhite actors, advised The File of Hackensack, N.J., in 1990. “The reason they should be cast is because they’re good,”
Ms. Merlin additionally forged six motion pictures, together with Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Last Emperor” (1987), for which she gained the Casting Population of The united states’s Artios Award. She additionally gained an Artios for “Into the Woods.”
Jo Ann Dolores Ratner was once born on July 15, 1931, in Chicago. Her oldsters had been Russian immigrants: Her father, Harry, owned a grocery pack, and her mom, Toni (Merlin) Ratner, helped within the pack and turned into a sculptor in her 60s.
She moved to Los Angeles along with her oldsters and her sister when she was once 15.
She attended the College of California, Los Angeles, for a month within the early Nineteen Fifties and, nearest appearing in performs within the Los Angeles segment within the early and mid-Nineteen Fifties, gave the impression in her first film function, a mini section in Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments” (1956).
Next some extra display screen paintings and roles in Off and Off Off Broadway performs, Ms. Merlin made her Broadway debut in 1961 in Jean Anouilh’s “Becket,” as Gwendolen, the mistress of Thomas Becket, one in every of Britain’s maximum robust figures within the twelfth century, who was once performed by way of Laurence Olivier. Then that month, she returned to Broadway to painting Sigmund Freud’s spouse in Henry Denker’s “A Far Country.”
Next 4 unsuccessful auditions for a task in Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children,” which was once staged by way of Jerome Robbins, she auditioned 8 occasions for Mr. Robbins when he was once casting “Fiddler on the Roof,” which opened in 1964. Even supposing she lacked a robust making a song tonality, she was once forged as Tzeitel, the oldest daughter of Tevye the milkman, the display’s essential personality.
The syndicated columnist Leonard Lyons wrote that after Ms. Merlin was once pregnant in 1965 along with her daughter Rachel, 0 Mostel, who performed Tevye, advised the level supervisor: “Joanna’s baby just kicked. Send baby a note — not to kick.”
She left the display in 1965 nearest Rachel was once born, returned as Tzeitel a month next, and departed once more in 1967 when she was once changed by way of her understudy, Bette Midler (who was once additionally Rachel’s babysitter). Next Julie’s beginning in 1968, Mr. Prince made his trade in.
She endured to behave, most commonly in motion pictures and on tv. Her roles integrated the dance lecturer in “Fame” (1980), Julia Roberts’s mom in “Mystic Pizza” (1988) and an impaired Jewish girl in a cut movie, “Beautiful Hills of Brooklyn” (2008), which she and Ragnar Freidank tailored from a one-woman play games by way of Ellen Cassedy.
TV audience could be maximum ordinary with Ms. Merlin’s habitual function in “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” She performed Pass judgement on Lena Petrovsky 43 occasions from 2000 to 2011. Deny alternative actor has performed a jurist extra steadily within the “Law & Order” franchise. She additionally gave the impression, as two other protection legal professionals, in 5 episodes of “Law & Order.”
Her profession as an appearing lecturer started in 1998 at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and a month next she started maintaining workshops devoted to the appearing method of her lecturer, Michael Chekhov.
Within the foreword to her store, “Auditioning: An Actor-Friendly Guide” (2001), Mr. Prince wrote: “Her taste is impeccable. In no instance can I remember her recommending anyone less than interesting for a role.”
Along with her daughter Rachel, a documentary filmmaker, and her daughter Julie Dretzin, an actress, Ms. Merlin is survived by way of 5 grandchildren. Her first marriage, to Marty Lubner, led to dissolution. Her marriage to David Dretzin ended along with his demise in 2006 nearest a automotive hit through which he suffered a tense mind trauma. Her sister, Harriet Glickman, died in 2020.
For “Pacific Overtures,” which takes park in Japan nearest Commodore Matthew C. Perry’s discuss with in 1853 and which had an all-Asian forged, Ms. Merlin occupied in “what may be one of the most poignant talent searches undertaken for a Broadway show,” in line with a 1976 article in The Unutilized York Instances.
Racism and economics steadily pressured Asian actors out of the career on the week. So when she had deny success discovering actors in Unutilized York, she labored with Asian folk and theater teams, Asian newspapers and the Circumstance Branch to fill the jobs. A 3rd of the ones in the long run signed for the manufacturing had been nonprofessionals.
Between the two of them was once the actor Gedde Watanabe, who was once a tender side road singer in San Francisco when she approached him and invited him to audition.
“I didn’t believe her,” Mr. Watanabe stated.