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Entertainment & Arts

Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher and the sad footnote to their shared Broadway debut

The 1973 revival of the musical comedy “Irene” barely registers as a blip in the history of Broadway theater, but the death Wednesday of star Debbie Reynolds means the production does gain a most unfortunate distinction: Three of its cast members have died within the span of three days.

Reynolds, already a Hollywood star thanks to “Singin’ in the Rain” and “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” made her Broadway debut as Irene O’Dare, a model working out a grand scheme with a New York fashion designer. The role earned Reynolds her only Tony nomination. She ultimately lost to Glynis Johns in “A Little Night Music.” (The presenter in their category that night was none other than Jerry Orbach.)

Also making her Broadway debut in “Irene” when it opened March 13, 1973: Reynolds’ daughter, Carrie Fisher, age 16. She played “Debutante.”

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Carrie Fisher’s death at age 60 on Tuesday closely followed the passing of yet another “Irene” cast member, George S. Irving, who won a Tony for his supporting performance as the fashion designer. Irving died Monday in New York at 94, the Associated Press reported.

“Irene” earned four Tony nominations in all and was a critical and commercial success, running for nearly 600 performances. Music by Harry Tierney and lyrics by Joseph McCarthy were propelled by a cast that also included Patsy Kelly, fresh off her own Tony win for “No, No, Nanette.”

The playbill for “Irene” noted that Debbie Reynolds’ career at that point already included an Academy Award nomination for “Molly Brown.” (It also noted that in high school she had excelled in sports, particularly sandlot baseball, and in music, specifically French horn.)

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Another bit of “Irene” trivia: The musical was the inaugural production in the Minskoff Theatre, now home to “The Lion King.”

Though best known for her film and TV work, Debbie Reynolds did eventually return to theater. Projects included a star turn in “Woman of the Year” on Broadway in the early 1980s and a 1989 tour of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” which a Times reviewer characterized as a bumpy ride steered by a fearless, unsinkable star.

“Reynolds is rowing against the tide just as surely as Brown did,” the reviewer wrote. “And, like Brown, she is making it — with a smile.”

craig.nakano@latimes.com

Follow The Times’ arts team @culturemonster.

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