From The Apple Tree at Theatre Memphis. And looking a little fancy.
Theater artist Ann Sharp has died.
She ended her struggle with cancer Saturday, June 9th. Her presence was so keenly felt in Memphis. Her absence will be also.
I've admired Sharp longer than I've known most other actors in the tri-state area. Straightforward as it seems, I've also misspelled her name more often than anybody else's. Sometimes I've spelled it Anne Sharp. Or Ann Sharpe. Or even Anne Sharpe when I was feeling especially reckless. I never could adequately explain why I thought her name needed an extra set of silent letters. It was like the correct spelling alway seemed insufficient, somehow. But she was typically gracious.
To one red-faced apology Sharp answered, "You know Chris, I'm just not that fancy." And that was it exactly! I'd been sold on an illusion and like so many costumers before me I wanted to outfit Ann Sharp in sequins and drape her in gewgaws! Or at least a few ornamental characters.
Technically speaking, Sharp qualified for the diva-club discount at area groceries. She earned the distinction on merit with bonus points for looking great in feathers and appearing in more versions of The Matchmaker/Hello Dolly than anybody this side of Carol Channing. But the d-word never really fit Sharp, who could flip from earthy to elegant at will and was as at home in flashy Broadway-style musicals as she was in edgy little comedies. She approached her work humbly, always laboring under the belief that it was an honor to stand on the stage, in the spotlight, speaking the great words and singing the great songs.
When Sharp took her final bow, Memphis didn't lose a great singer. It didn't lose a great actor. We lost a great person who happened to be all those other things also, and more.
Like Memphis Theatre patriarch Bennett Wood said in a speech, on the night of the 2012 Ostrander Awards, when Sharp and her frequent co-star and friend Jude Knight were co-awarded the Eugart Yerian Award for Lifetime Achievement in Memphis Theatre, "Any young actor working with [Ann] learns it takes more than talent. It takes humanity. It takes generosity of spirit. It takes soul to be a great performer."
As a young actor who shared stage time with Sharp in a 1987 production of Tom Stoppard's On the Razzle (yet another version of The Matchmaker ), I can personally attest to Wood's understatement here.
From The King and I at Theatre Memphis.
Sharp's half-century on area stages began when she relocated from Covington, La., to attend Southwestern at Memphis (now Rhodes College). Her lengthy and varied resume includes many great musical theatre roles: Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, Anna in The King and I, Marian the Librarian in The Music Man, and— of course— Dolly Levi. Comedy, tragedy, absurdity: Sharp could do it all. Dramatic credits include star turns in shows like Shakespeare's Hamlet, the Edward Albee classic A Delicate Balance, and contemporary comedy Rapture Blister Burn.
I've checked and re-checked to make sure Sharp's name is spelled correctly throughout this post even though I know she wouldn't hold it against me if I added an extra "e" here or there. She really wasn't fancy. She really was fabulous.
A memorial will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 7th at Seabrook Hall, Christ United Methodist Church, 4488 Poplar Avenue, Memphis.