Ellen Michelmore, who served as the Theatre Three musical director for more than 25 years, died early Friday morning, the theater said on its Facebook page. She was 63.
Since her start with a production of “Evita” in 1986, Michelmore worked with hundreds of actors and musicians at the theater in her hometown of Port Jefferson. Even through a few battles with leiomyosarcoma, a cancer that infects muscle tissue, Michelmore was known for her energy and for giving her all, and was named a Port Times Record Person of the Year in 2014.
“She is a craftsperson, an artist, a teacher and a mentor,” Theatre Three Executive Director Jeffrey Sanzel said at that time. He quoted composer Jerry Herman to describe her style: “‘Someone puts themselves last, so that you can come first.’ That is Ellen.”
People who knew her have called her generous, patient, kind, strong and remarkable. And she made a mean Bolognese sauce.
“I don’t think there was a single person who ever came across her who didn’t love her,” Sanzel said in a phone interview on Friday. “And I’m not one to use superlatives [but] she was an extraordinary human being, she was an artist, but just the depth of her love and compassion and sensitivity were unlike anyone we’ve ever had in this theater family, and her loss will be felt forever.”
As the lead of Theatre Three’s music department, Michelmore touched both audiences and staff.
Musician Michael Chiusano said people who worked with her respected and appreciated her honesty: “If your part is not prepared, she will tell you where you stand,” he said previously.
And Broadway actress and singer Amy Justman, who began working with Michelmore as a 10-year-old in 1989, said the music director was “kind and giving but tough.”
“I had never seen a woman like Ellen,” she said when Michelmore was named a Person of the Year. “She sent me on a path. … I have a lifelong connection to her and am so grateful for her.”
Michelmore played such a big role in the Theatre Three community that the theater honored her with a musical tribute in 2014, called “Ellen Michelmore: Notes From The Heart,” that featured singers, actors and musicians who had worked with her.
Michelmore is survived by her husband, Jeff Lange, who is also a musician. He has previously noted, “Ellen’s passion has been her job ever since she arrived at Theatre Three.”
Her presence is not something that will soon be forgotten at the theater. Sanzel said Friday, “In all that she’s been through in these last five years, her bravery was extraordinary and she never stopped loving all the people around her.”
Funeral arrangements had not yet been made early Friday afternoon.