March 15, 2011. Would have been Thommie Walsh’s 61st birthday.
Thommie was a 2-time Tony Award winner, an original cast member of the ground-breaking A Chorus Line, and my dear wonderful friend.
Thommie came into my life in so many ways. As a young actor and dancer, I was forever changed by his performance in A Chorus Line. The boy who grew up near Buffalo but “couldn’t remember the name of the town” – he’d blocked it out. His work on Broadway was the stuff wide-eyed young actors or dancers like me only dreamed about. He danced in several Broadway shows – including A Chorus Line – and then graduated to director/choreographer. As Tommy Tune’s partner, he won two Tony Awards: for “A Day in Hollywood / A Night in the Ukraine” and “My One And Only.”
Many, many other accomplishments and awards came Thommie’s way. Too numerous to mention.
But my favorite memory of Thommie was as my friend. In 2002, Donna McKechnie was asked to perform her developing one woman show “Inside The Music” in Los Angeles. Thommie was her director and choreographer. The theater was a small theater on a budget, so Donna asked if Thommie could stay with me. Every single day was a holiday with Thommie in the house. Having consulted on some of Donna’s earlier shows, I accompanied Thommie to rehearsals and did what I could to help. But just being around Thommie made life better and funnier and more wonderful. We became very fast friends.
He was constantly supportive of my work as a director and/or choreographer. A few years later, when I was choreographing a show off-Broadway he insisted he come to see the show. Then he made a point of meeting me for dinner at Joe Allens (famous Broadway restaurant) to talk about it. I’ll never forget the look in his eyes when he sat down, smiled, and simply said to me “you did good – I loved it.”
His sense of humor, his directness in any situation, everything about Thommie worked for me. I honestly loved this man. My wonderful friend.
In late 2006, however, he stopped returning phone calls. I worried something was wrong. I reached out to everyone I could. At one point – on a cold Christmas eve – I stood outside a holiday dinner in the cold on the phone with Cynthia Onrubia who had assisted him on some shows. The news was not good. I was distraught. I practically begged this woman who barely understood who I was to keep me informed as his health deteriorated.
News was slow to come over the next several months. And then, on a hot summer night, June 16, 2007, he passed away. This boy-wonder of Broadway was gone.
I’ll never forget where I was when I heard the news. I was riding in a car in Las Vegas when a friend called me and said “did you hear about Thommie?”
I held my breath as long as I could. I didn’t want to know. Several heart-beats went by. Please let it be anything that didn’t manifest in my imagination. I’m dramatic – surely I’m wrong.
I wasn’t. My friend on the other end of the call was sad and silent. She was sad to report the news.
But never forgotten. I remember Thommie’s birthday every year. March 15th – the Ides of March. From Julius Caesar – “beware the Ides of March.” Beware indeed. He used his own birthday onstage in A Chorus Line as “Bobby” or “Robert Charles Joseph Henry Mills, III” as his introduction went. Isn’t that funny?
I was honored to play his role in A Chorus Line several times and always thought of Thommie when I did. Near the end of his character’s monologue, he had a line that said “I just wanted to see if anyone would notice me.”
Boy – did the world notice Thommie.
I miss Thommie every time I think of him, which is often. His laugh, his humor, his talent, his friendship… all of it without boundaries.
I’d love to regale you with some stories I lived with him, but they may not be suitable for this post. If you knew him, you know what I mean. If you don’t, then please know I hope someday you know someone like him so you will.
Except there will never be another Thommie Walsh. Ever. And my eyes tear up with joy and sadness every time I know that.
Thommie – how very lucky am I to have known you. I miss you still. I always will.
Thommie once advised me if you were going to steal, steal from the best. So, to steal a phrase from Thommie – “love you madly – always”