October 2 marks the one-year anniversary of the tragic, untimely death of music director Paul Reekie, 48, whose South Florida theatre legacy of about 15 years’ worth of work on dozens of area musicals, concerts and cabaret shows came to a sad end following an accident in his Boca Raton home.
Bruce Linser, a Carbonell Award winning South Florida director and actor who collaborated with Paul on many projects over the years, counted him as his best friend.
“I met him when my husband Danny and I moved here from New York in 2004,” Bruce said. “I decided I wanted to do cabaret shows and needed a piano player.”
Bruce spotted Paul accompanying the Gay Men’s Chorus in a concert and was immediately hooked.
“As soon as Paul started playing, I thought oh my God, he is so good,” he said. “So I reached out to the director of the Gay Men’s Chorus and said I’d like to get in touch with him. From there we just became best friends and best colleagues. He was my go-to and I never really worked with anyone else.”
Bruce added his collaborations with Paul included “Man of La Mancha,” “Grease,” “Avenue Q,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Company,” “The World Goes ‘Round,” “Side By Side By Sondheim,” at MNM Theatre Company, “The Music of Andrew Lloyd Weber” at Lynn University, “La Cage Aux Folles” at Broward Stage Door and “Once Upon a Mattress” and “Bonnie and Clyde” at Florida Atlantic University. But their friendship far exceeded their professional relationship.
“We spoke constantly on the phone, whether we were working on projects together or not,” he said. “We were always in touch with each other about personal stuff as well as business stuff. We had such a shorthand with each other. People would joke that we were like an old married couple, because we could finish each other’s sentences and each knew what the other was thinking in the rehearsal room. We just had a synergy that I don’t know I’ll ever find again. So not only did I lose a collaborator and somebody I really connected with professionally, but there’s a big hole in my personal life as well.”
Bruce said Paul’s legacy to the South Florida theatre community lies in the generous giving of his time.
“He gave of himself to people and was so kind and supportive of them,” he said. “You knew if you walked into an audition and he was at the keyboard, you were in really good hands. He went to bat for so many people, professionally. There were so many times he’d come over to my table after someone gave a shaky audition and say, ‘That person has been working so hard,’ or ‘I think she just got nervous and we should give her a chance.’”
Bruce added Paul hated being called a musical director.
“He always said, ‘I’m not the director of the MUSICAL, I’m a MUSIC director and I direct the MUSIC!’” he laughed. “He coached so many people for their auditions and I think when auditions open up again, there will be a hole there for that.”
Bruce was the executor of Paul’s estate and noted how generous he was financially with Tri-County Animal Rescue, The Milagro Center (which ensures the social and academic success of underserved children through cultural arts) as well as various theaters and programs.
“Tri-County Animal Rescue named a conference room after him and Temple Beth-El is putting his name on a donation wall,” he said. “Palm Beach Dramaworks is putting a plaque on their wall for him and The Wick Theatre is dedicating a seat to him and naming a piano in their lobby for him. Compass LGBTQ Community Center in Lake Worth is naming their lobby piano after him and dedicating their World AIDS Day event to him this year. He also left money to the ASPCA and they’re doing a big profile on him for their fall newsletter. And he left money to both Lynn University and Florida Atlantic University. Lynn put his name on a wall there and FAU is naming their rehearsal room after him.”
Additionally, Bruce had a memorial bench named for Paul along with a tree planted for him in Boca Raton, where his ashes will be scattered.
“The memorial bench and tree will be on Blue Lake behind the Spanish River Library,” he said. “Part of the lake trail is county property and part of it is city property, so I couldn’t get both next to each other, but if you sit on the bench on the county’s Pondhawk Natural Area trail, you’ll be able to see the tree across the lake once it’s big enough to start blooming. It’s a Royal Poinciana tree and it blooms in the spring around his April 20 birthday, with these incredibly striking red-orange blossoms. It will be quite a sight in a couple of years, I think.”
(Left to right) Paul Reekie, Marcie Gorman and Bruce Linser, who collaborated together on seven mainstage productions at MNM Theatre Company.
Marcie Gorman, executive producer and artistic director for MNM Theatre Company, said Paul was her “guardian angel,” overseeing not only his music direction duties, but acting as a business adviser to her as well.
“He worked on 95 percent of my shows,” she said. “He was also my right-hand man, figuring out royalties for me and was a wiz as a computer person, getting MNM on the internet and setting up a website. The man had so many talents above and beyond being an incredible music director. He was excellent in the finance department. He knew how to wire the cameras in my office and was so helpful when I moved my operations to Boca Raton. He looked out for me and just did everything that needed to be done, without me having to ask or even know about it.”
But music was his forte, Marcie added.
“Paul could literally change the key and transpose sheet music on the fly, if it wasn’t in someone’s particular range,” she said. “And he did it by just sight reading it. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who was that talented. He had a brilliant mind. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do and it’s since taken me having to hire three or four people to try to replace him. But of course, I couldn’t. You don’t replace Paul Reekie.”
There was more to Paul than the work side, Marcie added.
“We went out together socially,” she said. “He was always there, whenever it was time to go to a party, to go out for pizza, to get sushi. Paul was such a sweetheart and it was always such a pleasure to be with him. He was fun and clever and intelligent and amazing. Just a great person to hang out with.”
Marcie said she hasn’t really recovered from his death.
“When I walk into my rehearsal room and Paul is not right there on my left-hand side as I walk in, it still freaks me out,” she said. “And for whatever reason, no other music director has ever sat in Paul’s spot. And it’s not like I tell them where to sit. I still half-expect to see him there.”
She added Paul’s legacy is one of total support, of understanding what she needed.
“He was always so good at telling me what my best options were,” she said. “The times I disagreed with him, I soon discovered he was right. I miss the angel on my shoulder. I miss the guy who could tell me, ‘Don’t do this Sondheim show, do that one.’ His legacy is monumental in our community. He’s left his mark on everything and on everyone. It’s impossible to forget Paul.”
(Left to right) Paul Reekie, Shelley Keelor and Bruce Linser.
Actress Shelley Keelor first met Paul Reekie shortly after she moved to South Florida from New York City in 2005.
“I had decided to do an audition at Palm Beach Dramaworks before I moved here,” Shelley said. “I got the show, ‘Berlin To Broadway With Kurt Weill,’ and Paul was the music director. He and I just hit it off. From that moment on we became close collaborators, colleagues and friends.”
She added she still has a lot of videos, photos and mementos of Paul “that are still difficult to look at” after a year.
“He was always the person I’d go to when planning a cabaret act or special event, like a 50th wedding anniversary,” Shelley said. “Paul had a huge impact on my career and I’ve had many happy memories of working on stage with him.”
She had many wonderful offstage memories of him as well, she added.
“He was a dear friend outside the business, of course,” she said. “We’d often start a phone call talking about a project, but that would often veer into personal subjects. We were each other’s sounding board for many reasons and would laugh a lot, talking about boyfriends and relationships. Our phone calls would sometimes go on for an hour. He was definitely a big supporter of me and I miss that.”
Shelley said a year of time since Paul’s passing still hasn’t allowed her to put things in much perspective, what with the isolation everyone has experienced due to the pandemic.
“Even the year prior to that, we were so busy we weren’t seeing each other much,” she said. “I remember Paul talking about how much he’d like to take a break and smell the roses. He did not do that. Then the pandemic came and we didn’t see each other, of course, but we did speak a lot on the phone. A part of me doesn’t believe he’s gone. It just feels like we’re both busy and not seeing each other at the moment. It’s not that I haven’t accepted his passing, it’s just I haven’t totally grasped that he’s not here.”
Shelley added Paul’s legacy is and always will be the music he gave everyone.
“I guess I’ll always picture him at the piano,” she said. “His legacy is playing the piano for so many people — whether it was in a show, in a cabaret, at a party. Even during the pandemic, he had a group of people he’d play Name That Tune with. Paul’s legacy is playing the piano for South Florida theatre and South Florida performers. He was always warm, helpful and personable. It’s why everyone loved him.”