Geoffrey Johnson Dies: Broadway Casting Director for ‘Cats’ Was 91

Geoffrey Johnson, casting director “Cats”And “Les Miserables,”Friday was the 91st birthday of Patricia A. Smith, New York City. Variety This has been confirmed. Respiratory failure was the cause.

In a career that spanned decades, Johnson worked with Broadway legends such as Hal Prince, Andrew Lloyd Webber, David Merrick and Noël Coward. Johnson’s first break came when Coward selected him to be the stage manager for Broadway’s production of “Sail Away,”The 1961 musical was a major stepping stone for Elaine Stritch, another theater legend. Johnson became a close friend of Coward, serving as his U.S. representative until the playwright’s death in 1973.

But it was in selecting the performers who graced some of the most popular plays and musicals of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s that Johnson forged his most enduring legacy. Johnson-Liff was founded by Vincent Liff, his business partner. They worked on many of the longest-running Broadway shows, including “Cats,” “Les Miserables,” and ”The Phantom of the Opera.”  Other projects included “The Producers,” “The Wiz,” “The Elephant Man,” “Dreamgirls,” “Miss Saigon” and ”Kiss of the Spiderwoman.”

Johnson summarized his casting philosophy in A 2003 interviewPlaybill “I don’t believe you discover actors,”He said. “You give them the chance to audition. They have to have the talent. They have to do it themselves.”

Johnson was born June 23, 1930 in New York City and raised in Larchmont.  His mother Agatha Gennette Johnson Hagelston was a high school teacher, and his father, Dr. Alfred Ashton Johnson was an obstetrician. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and the Yale School of Drama. Before moving into other production work, Johnson also worked as an actor, appearing in ”Saint Joan” on Broadway in 1956. Johnson was able to use his stage experience as an early casting director.

“I used a lot of the stuff I used in my acting classes when I was trying to find the right actor to show to the director,”Johnson said that Johnson spoke as part of An oral history projectDesigned by the Primary Stages. “I don’t think I was the best actor…but I do know, and this may sound very conceited, I really have good taste.”

Johnson and Liff won the Tony Award for excellence and theatre in 2003. Liff also received the Hoyt Bowers Award as well as several Artios Awards by the Casting Society of America. Liff was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2003.

He is survived by his niece Valerie Cortalano (Bruce) in Garrison, NY; nephew Bruce Johnson in Wilton Manors, Flor.; great nephews Charles Cortalano (Elizabeth) in White Plains, NY; Geoffrey Cortalano (Christine) in Cold Spring, NY; Nicholas Cortalano in Garrison, NY; Ryan Johnson in Palm Coast, Flor. There were many cousins and friends from the U.S. as well as England. Johnson was predeceased by his brother Alfred Ashton Johnson. His sister Patricia Johnson Friedman and nephew Craig Johnson were also present.

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