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Brian Shucker, 33; Composer-Lyricist of ‘Babes’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Award-winning composer and lyricist Brian Shucker has died of the complications of AIDS.

Earlier this year, Shucker, 33, received awards from Dramalogue and the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle for his score of “Babes,” a reflection on the Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland “kiddie musicals” of the 1940s. Much of the lyric writing and composing of “Babes” was done as Shucker struggled with his illness, friends said.

After being hospitalized on and off for 2 1/2 years since contracting the disease, Shucker was told by doctors four weeks ago he had developed a brain tumor.

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Friends said Shucker seldom spoke of his illness, choosing instead to focus on his work.

Although visibly weakened, Shucker attended an audition session in March to select the cast for a production of “Babes” at the Matrix Theater in West Hollywood. From his hospital bed, using a portable keyboard, he rescored one of the play’s pieces titled, “Give It a Whirl.”

It was the second run for “Babes” in Los Angeles, and it opened on Friday, the day Shucker died.

“The production kept him alive and going,” said a longtime friend and colleague, Michael Michetti. “He was the last one to want sympathy. He wanted to get better. He wanted his work to happen.”

Shucker grew up in Huntington Beach, not far from the Newport Beach hospital where he spent his final weeks, said Debbie Matthews, a friend who worked with Shucker in the early 1980s at the Curtain Call Theater in Tustin.

A pianist at the time, Shucker also performed as a vocalist, and eventually became the musical director of the dinner theater club. He honed his skills as he worked with cabaret acts performing on the local dinner theater circuit. Later, he toured the country with vocalists for whom he did musical arrangements.

At the Curtain Call Theater, Shucker met Bill Sawyer, his collaborator and companion. Sawyer wrote the book for “Babes,” and was in the process of completing what would have been their second full musical together.

Although the score of “Babes” includes rousing, uplifting numbers characteristic of the Rooney-Garland movies--"Babes in Arms,” “Babes on Broadway” and “Strike Up the Band"--the quieter, deeper pieces better reflect Shucker’s personality, Matthews said.

“He was never someone who would want to be the center of attention,” Matthews said. “He always appreciated the little nuances of life. He never hits you over the head; he thought the audience was more intelligent than that.

“Those soft moments that catch you unaware, those were Brian.”

Shucker is survived by his parents, Hank and Celeste Shucker of Huntington Beach. A memorial service is being planned.


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