Margo Lion, Broadway Producer of 'Hairspray' and 'Jelly's Last Jam' Is Dead at 75

Baltimore native and Broadway producer Margo Lion passed away on Friday, January 24, 2020. She’s a producer who helped bring “Hairspray” and “Jelly’s Last Jam” to the stage.

According to Lion’s son, Matthew Nemeth, the producer died at a Manhattan hospital days after suffering a brain aneurysm. The star was 75 at the time.

Lion was described as a proud and independent producer who sometimes used her personal possessions as collateral in order to stage a show. In the 1970s, the star began her work in the industry as an apprentice at the Music-Theater Group.

Margo Lion at the Off-Broadway Opening Night Celebration of 'Dot' on February 21, 2016, in New York City | Photo: Walter McBride/Getty Images

Margo Lion at the Off-Broadway Opening Night Celebration of 'Dot' on February 21, 2016, in New York City | Photo: Walter McBride/Getty Images

Lion’s production of “Hairspray”

Several years later, Lion started looking into the life of jazz musician Jelly Roll Morton. Her research was the basis for “Jelly’s Last Jam,” which starred Gregory Hines.

The show premiered on Broadway in 1992. Ten years later, Lion produced the Tony-winning musical “Hairspray” which was adapted from the John Waters 1988 comedy film.

Her first Broadway production

The star had seen the film on video in 1998 and believed it would be perfect for Broadway. Part of what drew her to it was how the story was set in Baltimore.

The producer’s first Broadway production was called “I Hate Hamlet” and it came out in 1991. Lion was one of the producers of “Angels in America: Millennium Approaches” and “Angels in America: Perestroika” that came out in 1993 and 1994 respectively.

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So sad to learn that the wonderful Margo Lion, the caring Producer of “Triumph of Love” & many other great shows has passed away. #RIPMargo 🌹Thanks, Susan Egan for this lovely post about Margo. ❤️ Repost from @iamsusanegan using @RepostRegramApp - This woman was one of the best. Not a lot of women producers on Broadway in the early ‘90s and none as intelligent, insightful and nurturing as Margo Lion. From our out of town try-outs in Baltimore and Yale Rep, to Broadway, she navigated difficult waters and taught me a great deal. After Triumph closed, and we all moved onto other projects, she always welcomed me into her office so I could ask 1000 questions about producing and get her thoughts. She was a woman, in her power, who never lost her kindness, never sacrificed art. She is gone too soon, but loved eternally. #MargoLion #jamesmagruder #susanbirkenhead #fmurrayabraham @christopher_sieber @opelnyc @rogerbartofficial @blbuckley @chamberlin.kevin @michaelmayerdir @michaelkosarin @jeffrey_stock @baxandthecity

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Her other production credits

Her other credits include August Wilson’s “Seven Guitars” and “Elaine Stritch at Liberty” which received a Tony Award. Lion was also the producer of the musical adaptation of “Catch Me If You Can.”

The show played at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre in July 2009. The producer was also responsible for working on the musical adaptations of Mira Nair's “Monsoon Wedding” and “Like Water for Chocolate.”

Being honored by President Obama

In 2009, former President Barack Obama appointed her to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. All together, Lion’s works have won 20 Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize.

Serving on the Arts Policy Committee

The star was an adjunct professor at the Tisch School of the Arts of New York University. She also served as Co-Chair to Obama's Arts Policy Committee during the 2008 Presidential Election.

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