When Nicholas Nickleby was first broadcast on TV in the States in 1983, Rees' performance gave the whole sprawling enterprise its emotional center. His Nicholas navigated the massive plot with a quicksilver adrenalin-rush of moral courage that seemed to surprise even him.
I'm sure neither my husband nor his will mind me saying I've been in love with him ever since.
Still in the Dickensian mode, he had a featured role in the Georg C. Scott TV version of A Christmas Carol (Rees played nephew Fred), and a TV adaptation of John Fowles' The Ebony Tower. He went on to play recurring roles in Cheers (zillionaire Robin Colcord) and The West Wing (Lord John Marbury).
|My poster from the RSC. It's still in my office .|
I also enjoyed seeing him pop up in the odd movie over the years—Star 80, Mountains of the Moon, Frida, The Prestige. (Some of the damned odd; who could forget his energetic villainy as the nasty Sheriff of Rottingham in Mel Brooks' Robin Hood: Men In Tights?)
But his first love was always the stage. He played many leading Shakespearean roles, from A Comedy of Errors to Hamlet, with the RSC in England. He collaborated with playwright Tom Stoppard in original stage productions of The Real Thing and Hapgood. I raced like the wind down south for the chance to see him live, onstage, when Hapgood played in LA.
But (to my eternal regret) I missed his one-man stage show on playing Shakespeare, What You Will, when it played in San Francisco in 2008. And how I would've loved to see him play the divine Gomez Addams in The Addams Family musical on Broadway in 2011!
|PR pic from Rees' solo show What You Will, 2008|
Earlier this year, he opened in the new musical, The Visit, opposite Chita Rivera, but had to withdraw in May for health reasons.
Rees' Nickleby had such a profound effect on me, I started binge-reading Dickens. I plowed through Nicholas Nickleby, Bleak House, and Our Mutual Friend (the best of the lot, with its splendid, propulsive river imagery) before I came up for air. For better or worse, I started seriously writing my own fiction soon after.
By all accounts, Roger Rees was as charming and gracious in real life as he was compelling and entertaining onstage.
Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest, Mr. Rees. You will be missed.
Update: I've just read that the lights of Broadway will be dimmed for one minute, at 7:45 pm, July 15, in honor of Roger Rees. A fitting tribute to a gifted player who loved the stage so much!